The Last Dixie Cup

28 02 2011

A long line of predecessors passes before it, alike living and dying in the same story.  Within the column that hangs beside the water cooler is a long stack of waxed paper cups, Dixie cups, and within that stack is a single cup just like all of the others, awaiting its turn at fulfillment.  Its ancestors pass before it, each taking its turn.  Then, our selected Dixie cup emerges from its birthing canal, from whence it is filled, then drained, and then it is crumpled and tossed into the trash.  Even before it meets its demise, another cup is already waiting to take its place.  The story doesn’t end there.  Our little cup is then transported to Puente Hills Landfill, where it is buried and covered in a lovely layer of sod.

A long line of predecessors passes before him, alike living and dying in the same story.  His ancestors passed before him, each taking his turn at life.  Then, at the appointed time, our selected man emerges from the birthing canal into the world of the living.  He grows up; then he grows old, and then he dies.  Even before he meets his end, another child is already waiting to replace him.  His body is lovingly laid at Rose Hills Cemetery, where it is buried and then covered in a lovely layer of sod.

The biggest irony in all of this is that Rose Hills, the site of the man’s burial, is the exact same hill as Puente Hills, the site of the paper cup’s burial.  They’re two faces of the same hill.  The man and his trash will be buried side-by-side.  The only differences between the two are the oaks that grow on the landfill and the stone monuments that lay inert on the cemetery.  It’s not a very cheery comparison, but it’s definitely an effective way to clear the crowd at the water cooler and get them back to work.  “You see this cup,” I could say, “It tells the story of your life.”  The cheapness of the paper cup makes a very disturbing comparison with human life.

And then the paper cup dispenser runs out.  Someone removes the last cup, and it gives a little too easily.  He glances down and sees that he’s taken the last one.  He knows that he’d better hang on to this one if he ever wants to come back and get another drink, later in the day.  So, he writes his name on the side, and he places the little cup in an inconspicuous corner of the counter top, beside the microwave, behind the stack of loose paper towels.  This one little cup gets to experience a deviation in the pattern set before it.  Its life has been prolonged, because it has something that the previous cups did not.  The last cup has a little share of significance.  It’s not much, but it makes the last cup special.

Hollywood, over the years, has found a wide array of devices for destroying the Earth, whether by alien invasion, earthquakes, war, climate change and even robotic revolt.  They do this because it makes money.  That’s what interests people, the end of the world, because the last generation has something that all of the previous generations seemed to be missing.  The last generation has significance, and, deep down, many people in this world want that significance.  World religions have also profited from this tendency.  Either the world will end in fiery destruction, or it will transform into an everlasting paradise.  Either way spells the end of the world as we know it.  Nearly every world religion has some sense of eschatology, because everyone’s just dying to know how it all ends.

The quest for significance is just one of four basic motivators that drive humanity.  The first two, purpose and meaning, are divine in nature.  Only God can give them, and if he doesn’t exist, then they don’t exist.  The second two, significance and pleasure (alternatively pain), are like the bastard offspring of the previous two.  Where a sense of purpose is lost, significance takes the reins.  Where a pursuit of meaning is surrendered, the drive for pleasure takes hold.  Simple pleasure is shallow enough and not the subject of this post.  Here, we look closer at significance.

We achieve significance by doing or being something big or small, first or last, best or worst, brightest or darkest, and so on.  Whatever might motivate someone to write our names in a history book, even the history of the local chess club, such is significance, of a sort.  Significance is morally neutral.  It doesn’t need design, and it doesn’t heed the precepts of God.  It merely needs to be different.  Whether we go out in flames, or whether we all quietly freeze to death, if we are the last generation, then we have a certain significance, even though no one will be left to care.

We can see places in recent history where significance usurped purpose.  We know of televangelists who needed our money to fulfill a great purpose, but the greatness of that purpose was the real underlying drive.  Greatness is a matter of significance, not purpose.  A waxed paper cup fulfills its purpose by holding water for a few seconds, but it will never be great.  A gigantic prayer chapel reaching toward the heavens might be great, yet not really achieve a divine purpose.  The more we see a person striving for greatness, or any other manner of significance, the more we can be certain that such a person is losing or has lost hold of his sense of purpose.  Purpose is God’s design for your life, the ideal that he knows you ought to fulfill.  Purpose is often mundane.  It is usually not much different from everyone else’s purpose, and not at all different at its core.  The core of our purpose is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  How we elaborate that purpose is the only difference between us.

Significance hits close to home.  Everyone seeks it to some extent, just like we all pursue pleasures and avoid pain.  This is not abnormal or wrong.  We have these four motivators, purpose, meaning, significance and pleasure, and when we lose hold of all of them is when we stand at the brink of suicide.  A person can be drawn from that brink, at least initially, through as little as a promise of pleasure.  Sure, you can kill yourself, but let’s go get a hamburger and milkshake first; I’m starving.  In a longer turn of events, the end can be staved off with a bucket list, an assortment of things that one wants to do before one dies, like climb a tall mountain or skydive.  This is an appeal to significance.  But then we might see drug addicts killing themselves with every chemical they can get their hands on in search of pleasure, or we might see game addicts wasting hours upon hours of every day to maintain the highest score in an online game in their drive for significance.  When we see an overemphasis on one motivator, then we can be sure that another motivator is lost.

Purpose: we dispense.  We are filled.  We are drained.  We are destroyed.  We are buried.  It’s nothing glamorous.  It’s downright frightening.  We are scared of the death, but even more so, we are scared of our lack of significance.

But here’s the end of the matter.  We must first strive for our purpose, to love God passionately and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  God’s response to us follows our pursuit of our purpose.  His response is the meaning that we find in life, the message that we see him telling us in our lives, and the words he whispers to us through his spirit.  If we seek our purpose and we find our meaning, then the significance follows naturally after that.  We are more than a waxed paper cup, even though we share a similar destiny.  We have the significance of being made in the image of God, heirs to his promise, saved and chosen, drawn out from among the whole world to be his own.  After that, the pursuit of pleasure is easy.  He grants us the desires of our hearts.  The cherry on top really is just the cherry on top.  It’s just something that happens to taste nice.

Without God, though, the whole thing topples.  Without him, I really am no better than the cup I drink from, and I’m no better off, either.

Advertisements




The Day After, and the Day After That

25 12 2010

A man lived in a modest home on a very expensive little square of land.  The home was reasonably large, but nothing in character to make it particularly attractive.  At night, he could be seen in his living room watching television, while all of the other windows in his home were dark.  One day, he decided to tear down this house and build a much bigger home with more rooms.  He designed it with an old Spanish architecture, built by a renowned company.  Out in front of this home, he put a plaque detailing the history of the site, though one might wonder what significance could exist in a home built only a few years ago.  Whatever had existed there before was long gone.  Only the dirt was historic, for what it’s worth.  The home was lovely, furnished with brand new furniture and all of the latest technology.

In the evenings, he could be seen sitting in his living room watching a bigger television, and all of the other windows in his home remained dark.  Now, there were more dark windows, to dark rooms with no one in them and no life housed.  In truth, he either needed fewer rooms or more family living with him.  Actually, he seemed only to need one room.  As it was, one room held all of the life, while the others were vacant catacombs.

In our mansion, we have three-hundred-sixty-five rooms.  One of them is well lit and full of life.  Its light spills out the door and down the hall.  You can see the light before you see the room.  You can stand in the glow before you’re in the room.  One room is full of life and festivity.  One room holds the family.  One or two others occasionally get a visit, but this room is where the action is.  The other three-hundred-sixty-four rooms are about as lifeless as a grave.  We walk briskly through the room, then exit back into another dark hallway.  The glow gently recedes as we head away from the door.  Then we find ourselves in darkness.

The day after Christmas, known as Boxing Day for reasons unknown to most people, is usually a day for breaking toys, returning unwanted presents, and spending what’s left of the family budget on things, things and more things, to fill the vacancy left by the light of Christmas.  The purchases on Boxing Day are a match lit to find one’s way down the dark hall, in absence of the waning light of Christmas.  The world has forgotten Christmas already.  Yet, the world never knew it.  On Christmas morning, the sun rose at its usual time; the wild animals followed their usual routine; all of nature was ignorant of the event.  The whole physical world saw Christmas as just another day.  On the day that Christ was born, the whole world saw the life of just another day.  Few people were aware that anything significant had happened, because the significance was purely in the minds of those who saw it.  Christ was the great secret.  He was only a baby, and he was doing nothing extraordinary.  For all practical purposes, the first Christmas really was just another day.

The only difference between Christmas and all of the other days in the year is what we do with it.  In one sense, it’s all in our minds.  We could say that it’s nothing special.  Nothing happens on that day that could not just as easily happen on the day after, or the day after that.  On Christmas, we wake up with the feeling that this is a special day, like no other.  The day after Christmas, we wake up depressed, looking for a suitable drug.  The only difference between the two days is what we put into them.  The Christmas room is full of life, full of loved ones and full of charm.  The room next to it is dark and cold, uninhabited and neglected.  Christmas is expensive and laden with work.  The other days are cheap and easy.  Christmas is religious and meaningful, while the others are mostly secular and routine.  Christmas is a time for building relationships, but the others are a time for growing stale and unfamiliar.  The only difference between the two is what we do with them.  Otherwise, one day is just like any other.

One room is like any other.  The only difference is what you fill it with.  God has a house with many rooms, and he intends to fill it with loved ones.  Every room will be filled with light and life.

Some houses on the street are brightly lit.  Others remain as festive as a tomb.  The Puritan rejects Christmas for its pagan origins, while the atheist rejects it for the Christian thing it has become.  For some, it is secular, a party to celebrate nothing.  For some, it is the birthday of someone very special.  It is a symbol.  It is whatever it means to you.  It amounts to whatever you invest into it.  It is not that Christmas is an ordinary day trumped up to pretend itself important.  It is that every other day is neglected and unappreciated for what it is.  Every other day needs a little Christmas, and every other person needs Christ.  The world is full of empty souls, with scarce few that know what it means to be filled with Christ, to be Christmas among the empty days of the calendar.

Emmanuel, God is with us, still.  Christ came and struck us in awe.  Then he left.  The day after that, after he was gone, when the miracles had ceased, and the Holy Spirit had not yet come, the world was held in suspense, like Boxing Day, not knowing what was left to hope for, but only guessing and waiting, remembering what had been, and feeling the vacancy.  Christ was really gone this time.  He wasn’t coming back in three days, this time.  It was over, or had it just begun?  No, it had not even begun, yet.  At the moment, it was just over, and it was not anything else, yet.  It was the day after, and its only significance was that it was no longer the previous day.

It was the dark room, next to the living one, close enough to hear the activity and catch a glimpse of the light, but still in darkness.  But the day after Christmas is the first day of waiting for its return.





The Endless Hallway

16 08 2010

[fiction]

Solomon Leechman failed to live up to his name that day at the bar, when he’d had too much to drink.  He made a friend and accepted a ride home.  The next thing he knew, he was lying in the dark on a cold stone floor, which probably contributed as much to his headache as the hangover.  Several hours passed in semi-consciousness, where he very much hated lying there, but he very much more hated the idea of standing.  Eventually, the sun finally found its way to him, after illuminating his prison several hours in advance, like a prolonged twilight.

Finally admitting awareness of his environment, he observed two things.  Firstly, he noticed that he was in a hallway without a ceiling, letting in the blare of direct sunlight from high above.  At least, if it was not a hallway, then it was an alley between two walls.  Next, he noticed that he was among two others, one man and one woman.  The other man came to his senses hours later, being, perhaps, more affectedly drugged than Solomon.  The woman awoke not long after that.  Upon inquiry, he found that the man’s name was Charles Bessemer, and the woman’s name was Mary Eddy.  Neither of them knew how they had gotten there.  Mary had only sipped a cup of tea on her front porch before winding up here.  Charles had taken such a cocktail of drugs that any of them could easily have been responsible for his unconsciousness.  In fact, he had taken them for that express purpose.  There was no apparent connection between any of them, other than that they were all lacking anything that might have been in their pockets previously, except for a used tissue and a pack of cigarettes with accompanying lighter.  This was immediately put to use by the man called Charles, who took a long drag and muttered, “Apparently, we’ve been robbed.  Well, at least we’ve still got fire.”

Solomon looked around at the cold stone walls and wondered what good a fire would do them here.  Perhaps if they had something to burn, they might have a comfort at night.  “Well, I suppose we’d better be making our way to the police,” he said, without confidence, as he peered down the seemingly interminable alley.  He looked both ways and then picked one at random, following it steadily for about ten minutes before doubting himself.  The others followed him for lack of any excuse to do otherwise.  He stopped in his tracks and looked back.  The way they had come stretched out indefinitely behind them, but the way before them was unchanged.  They might easily have remained in their original position, by all appearances, except for the fact that they knew that they had moved.  Solomon ran his fingers through his hair and said to himself, “Man, what a long alley.”  They continued for a few minutes more, accelerating a little with every passing minute.  When the end of the alley continued to elude them, they broke into a trot.  The trot became a run, and the run developed into a mad dash.  When Solomon finally could run no further, he stopped dead in his tracks and panted, staring down the hellishly interminable lane.  He looked back and found that he had lost his friends.  The insanity of the imprisonment seemed so much the worse without companionship that he panicked and ran back the way he had come, until he reached Charles and Mary, who had given up the chase before him.

Mary sat against the wall and hugged her knees.  Charles smoked another cigarette and gazed down the alley.  Solomon kept looking up at the sky, with the sun now out of sight, wondering if there might be some way to climb over the wall.

“Listen, man,” said Charles, irritably, “This blasted hall can’t go on forever.  Everything has an end.”  He paused to think about it, glanced up and then reconsidered.  “No way, man, we didn’t just get taken into some parallel universe.  This thing has an end, and we’re going to find it.”

“Are you sure we’re not just dreaming the whole thing?” asked Mary.

“You want me to kick some sense into you?” barked Charles, coldly, “I’m not dreaming, and neither are you.”

They continued on down the way between the walls for the rest of the day, until the light faded into dusk, and then the real fear began to set in.  Charles burned through the rest of his cigarettes for the sole joy of having a flame.  Solomon sat staring at the stars, comforting himself with the one opening to their prison.  Mary sat with her back to the wall and cried herself to sleep.

“You know,” mused Charles, “We’ve been marching down this alley all stinking day.  We must have come several miles, yet.  We’ve encountered neither corner nor door, so we can rule out the possibility that either wall surrounds some other area, which means that this probably isn’t the space between two properties, and those aren’t just walls at the edge of someone’s estate.  We’ve been doing the only thing we know, which is to follow this thing in one direction, in some hope of reaching the end.  I figure this is probably a canal of some kind, which means that the top of the wall is actually at ground level.  Otherwise, I can’t see any reason to build two such long walls.  I mean, sooner or later someone’s going to want to cross from one side to the other.  There’s got to be a bridge, or a tunnel or something, eventually.”

Solomon kept looking at the stars.  Cool air drifted down to him from above, which was about the only comfort to be found in that otherwise comfortless place.  At least he had fresh air.  At least he could see an opening above him, if nothing else.  He stood to his feet and called out to the opening above.  Nothing answered him.

Charles rebuked him, saying, “Save it, man.  No one hears you, alright?  Now, I have an idea.  Just wait here.  Don’t move until I get back.”  Then, he walked off into the darkness.

Solomon sat down next to Mary, attempting to comfort her as best he could, which wasn’t very much.  They passed a long sleepless night together, with no event except the movement of the stars and Solomon’s occasional calling out to them.  If they had been in a pit, then their circumstances might not have seemed as dire, but this interminable hall gave it just a devilish enough intrigue to make the place unbearable.  At least a pit was normal.  This was something out of Hell.

In the morning, Solomon and Mary started walking down the alley again, wondering constantly whether they were moving forward, or whether hey were merely retracing their steps.  He resolved not to make the mistake again.  Charles had not returned.  The passageway had swallowed him up with sheer distance.  Somehow or other, he would reach an end, and so would they, if they just continued on.  When darkness fell that night, Solomon removed his shoe and placed in on the ground, pointing in their direction of travel.  At least, if they needed several day’s journey, they would be traveling in the same direction each day and not undoing the previous day’s work.  They spent the night without conversation.  Whatever her thoughts on the matter, she wasn’t sharing.  By the third day, he knew that they would perish without food and water.  Somewhere in this waterless canal, there must be at least a puddle, or they were sure to die.  Mary was an inconsolable wreck.  He had to urge her every step of the way.  When at last they reached a stand of water in their way, probably a slightly low spot in the dry channel, he fell to his face and sucked at what little was there.  To continue this journey might be death of dehydration, but if they remained where they were, they were also doomed.  Forward was the most hopeful thing in the universe.  They stayed at the puddle for an hour longer, and then they continued.

In the distance, barely seen in the darkening dusk, they perceived the figure of a man walking.  Solomon ran toward him, and when the man heard him, he also began to run.  The other man was the first to stop running.  It wasn’t until the other man fell to his knees and roared with agony at the top of his voice that Solomon realized whom he was running at.  It was Charles, finally returning to them after so much time.  He trotted the remaining distance and called to him, “Charles!  You came back!  What’s wrong, man, did you reach the end?”

Charles wept like a baby and said through his tears, “Shut up, you fool!  I didn’t come back!  I didn’t come back, you ass!”

Solomon ignored the slight and inquired, “What do you mean, you didn’t come back?”

“Don’t you get it?” Charles cried, “I went full circle!  I’ve been walking nonstop since I left you people!  This thing is just one great big circle!  There’s no end!  There’s no way out!”  He gasped for breath, “It took me two days to get around it.  If I went two miles per hour, then it must have been ninety-six miles around.  But, wait!  You were travelling in the other direction!  That means it could be even twice that!  What hole have we fallen into?  This isn’t a channel!  This is like a moat around some gargantuan castle!”

After much hugging and weeping, they decided that their best option was to retreat back to the puddle, where at least they had water.  That night, Charles slept like a log, while Solomon lay awake, staring at the sky, hallucinating frequently of people looking down at them.  Once, he thought for sure that a man poked his head out from above them, and he leapt to his feet and yelled at the face until Charles knocked his legs out from under him and told him to shut up.

The next morning, they sat around the puddle and stared at their respective sources of comfort.  Charles stared at the flame of his lighter.  Solomon stared at the open sky, and Mary stared at the back of her eyelids.  Charles was the first to speak, “Well, at least there’s some comfort in knowing that this isn’t a passageway that goes on forever in both directions.  If it’s a circle, then it might as well be a pit.  We’ve been in a very large pit, wandering its outer edge.  There’s nothing too diabolical about that.”

Solomon found no comfort in the thought.  Knowing the limits of his enclosure only heightened his fear, because that meant that there was no way out.  Charles might have been comforted by the taming of its magic, but Solomon was terrified at the setting of its outer limit.  He would have preferred a magical hall with no end, because at least in magic there was some hope of something totally unexpected happening and providing a way out.  For a while, he even argued that it really was a magic hall, and that it really was straight.  He imagined that the magic had caused Charles to reverse directions, or to come back from the other end without actually travelling in a circle.  In the end, though, Charles’ rationality won out.  Yet, there still stood the matter of getting out.  Charles, forever the thinker, worked on various means of escape, such as climbing on each other’s shoulders, climbing the stones, or using a belt buckle to carve a hole.  In the end, though, they were not tall enough to scale it, the masonry was too smooth to climb, and the belt buckle idea, though theoretically possible, would take more days than they could survive.  Even at that, if they were in a circle with no bridge over them, then they might accidentally find themselves inside of the circle with not one but two walls between them and freedom.

Solomon continued to shout at the stars, and Charles continued to yell at him to stop.  “No one hears you, okay?”

“Someone might eventually hear me,” Solomon argued.

“What’s going to make that happen?  No one has heard you yet, and you have no reason to expect that to change.  The stars can’t hear you.  Walk a few feet down the way and scream, and if that doesn’t work, then walk a few feet more and do it again.  Eventually, I’ll be rid of you, and maybe I’ll be able to spend my last days in peace!”

The irony of the situation was that while Charles had brought the hall down from the mysterious to the understandable, he had brought the outer world from the understandable to something rather mysterious.  There was no explanation as to how a trench, or hall, could follow such a huge circle without impacting the lives of other people.  There was no reason it should even exist, and there was no reason why anyone should make it.  Nevertheless, there really was no sign of interference from without, and there was almost no reason to believe that the pit was made by humans, except that it did not likely make itself.  Solomon, however, who had originally clung to the idea of a mysterious hallway, was the last to give up on hope for outside help.  Someone had obviously made the pit, or hall, which meant that human civilization was not only near, but the passage was actually a part of that civilization, somehow.  The walls were built by people, therefore there was a chance of meeting more people.

Solomon and Charles argued about the matter until Mary burst out with her first words in more than two days, “Shut up!  Just shut up!  Keep your beliefs to yourselves.  You want to climb the wall and save yourself, then do it.  You want someone to climb down from the wall and save you, then let them.  Just stop talking about it!”  Then she closed her eyes, plugged her ears and imagined herself in a happier place.

So Solomon continued down the hall, shouting every so often for help from above, to people that he could not see.  It was the only chance for hope.  He wasn’t content to make the best of his short life in the pit.  He wasn’t content with imagining it all away.  If someone outside didn’t hear his cries, then there was no hope, but if he did not cry out, then there never could be hope.  Several times, he hallucinated that people were looking down on him.  With time, he began to imagine even wilder things than people looking down on him.  Then, startlingly, a voice called down to him, saying, “Hello, now how did you get down there?”  He looked up at the smiling ruddy round face at a man, and for a moment, the real thing seemed stranger than the hallucinations ever were.  He stared transfixed at the stranger before he could mumble something only halfway intelligible in return.  When he finally came to grips with the reality of the situation, he wanted to run back and get the others, but then the stranger might go away, and Solomon might not find the spot again.  When the face did disappear, he sat down, afraid to leave the spot, which was rewarded nearly an hour later by the lowering of a very tall ladder.

“Sorry it took so long,” said the jolly man, “but the shed is some distance from here and I had a dandy of a time finding a ladder.”

Solomon scaled the ladder quickly, afraid that the dream might fade.  At the top, he discovered that the passage was a deep trench.  Some distance away was a small building, and the surrounding terrain was quite flat.

“You’re lucky I came by when I did.  They’re closing down the place, and I was the last to leave.  They dug this monstrosity to be an atom smasher, only the funding got cut before it was finished.  They gutted the workings and sold it as scrap, but there’s no money in filling holes, so they left it.  I can’t imagine what you were doing in there,” said the rescuer.

“An atom smasher?” Solomon wondered.  Suddenly, it was all making a little more sense.  The pit contained a massive circle of piping for shooting subatomic particles in a circle, faster and faster, in an attempt at breaking them apart and discovering the origins of the universe.  People had quit trying to reach beyond the universe to the one who made it, preferring instead to live and die within it.  The flat earth with mysterious limits had become a circular prison devoid of mystery, and the ones who shattered the mystery devoted themselves to abolishing any mystery that they could not shatter.  It did not continue in all directions, but it went in a circle.  There was no point in calling for help from the outside, because no one had heard, and no one would ever hear.

While some people, like Charles, tried to defeat the mystery understood by Solomon, others, like Mary, tried to defeat the prison created by people like Charles, preferring instead to take refuge in the ever subjective philosophy of their own imaginations.  If Solomon was pre-modern, Charles was modern and Mary was postmodern.  Charles, at least, had a great deal of understanding the nature of the confinement.  Solomon understood the nature of his salvation.  Mary feared all understanding, and therefore she had none.  In the end, only the wisdom of Solomon could save them.

Perhaps, then, Solomon outlived his first mistake by living up to his name in the end.

[/fiction]





Disposable Man

30 05 2010

Somewhere on the streets of gold a man does not walk, though he might have.  He was not born into that world.  He never walked there.  He was discarded from there before he ever arrived.

Somewhere in a dark alley on Earth, another disposable man also does not walk.  He was never born into this world, much less reborn into the next.  Perhaps, he was murdered in the womb, discarded before he ever arrived.

Then again, perhaps he never even arrived in the womb.  Maybe his parents used effective contraception.  Perhaps they abstained altogether.  The parents were too busy to marry, or they rejected each other, not knowing that they rejected their own destiny.

Disposable Man had no say in his own parentage, whether he would be born at all.  Had he been born, he would have had no say in his own death.  No degree of effort could prevent his passing.  Somewhere in between the two, between the cradle and the grave, we presume that he would have had the autonomy to choose his destiny, and yet, that destiny may have been the beginnings, or lack thereof, of yet another Disposable Man.  The part in the middle, where we assume he had free will, another is born into the world by destiny through the actions of an autonomous man.  Perhaps we presume too much.

When a woman aborts her child, we say that she has murdered another human being, and rightly so.  She assumes the right to live, and she attributes to her child the duty to be discarded.  The child is disposable, but she is not.  From before conception the baby had no identity at all.  Had she abstained from sex, it would not have existed.  She would not have been guilty of murder, because nothing existed to be murdered.  So much weight is given to sentience.  Some would say that the death of a human does not matter before it is fully conscious enough to realize that it is getting ripped apart.  At what point does the human soul enter the body?  As far as I know, I am the only one for whom it ever has.  I cannot study or know the soul of a single other human on the planet, any more than I could travel to a parallel universe.  People are islands, entire universes separated from each other by uncrossable chasms.  I only know that I have a soul, because I experience the act of living.

The woman who wishes to kill justifies her act, essentially, on the notion that the soul of the baby has not yet arrived, does not exist.  Yet, no one can know if or when it ever does.  She can only know the existence of her own soul, and this is the crux of the matter.  She was the only person that concerned her, anyway.  Abortion is, at heart, a postmodern problem.  The modernist, at least, can see the creation of a new human within the womb, because the modernist is obsessed with the physical world.  What can be studied can be believed.  But the postmodernist is obsessed with the highly internal world of the mental universe, those events and experiences which capture the soul.  If she does not feel it, then she does not care.  As postmodernism grows, so does the industry of infanticide.

A pastor need only mention the word, abortion, and we can see certain women in the congregation squirming in their seats, as though the truth were trying to crawl right out of their wombs where they sat.  But there can be forgiveness.  If Paul The Apostle can make a living at murdering masses of believers, yet repent and walk straight into Heaven, then there is hope for any of us.

Otherwise, the mother of the Disposable Man may find herself disposable in the next life.

What of the man who was never conceived?  He may have more in common with the everyday man than any might recognize.  The one who fails to live the entire nine months of gestation may only live a few weeks, but the elderly man who dies after a century still dies.  Both are soon forgotten.  As we approach eternity, both lifespans approach nothingness.  A man of any lifespan gradually becomes a Disposable Man.  If he is not born again into eternity, then he is lost before he even began.  He is like the man who never existed.

Coming into existence was always a matter of destiny.  It always comes about by an act of God, being entirely beyond us.  This remains as true for the second birth as for the first.  And so, our Disposable Man does not wander the streets like a haunting ghost.  He ceases  to exist without a trace.

At the top of this page is a picture.  Look again.  Is something missing?  Was it ever there?  Something is desperately missing from that picture, gone as though it had never existed.  It is Disposable Man, and it may be you.





Invalid Syllogism; working backward and getting lost

19 04 2010

If you follow the stream downhill from camp, point A,  then you get to the same place we got to, point B. We followed the stream downhill from camp, which is why we are here.

It stood to reason that following the stream assured a predictable path of travel.  If they followed the stream away from camp, then they could follow the stream back to camp.  While it is true that anyone who followed that stream with the current would eventually end up where they were, it was not true that anyone from where they were could follow the stream against its current to arrive back at camp.  Traveling downhill, the tributaries were all convergent.  If the stream split at all, then it always merged again a little further down.  Thus, one could reliably follow that stream and overtake anyone else who also followed that stream.  They would not veer from the path.  However, while the tributaries are convergent on the way down, they are divergent on the way back up.  What this means is that a person not paying close attention to the forks in the stream might not remember which one to follow going back.  In fact,  two members of our camping group did that very thing.  Traveling downstream was deceptively easy, as there were no decisions to make.  There is always only one downstream.  However, traveling upstream has its alternatives.  There are often multiple ways to go upstream.  The result of this was that at the end of the trip, when the pair never returned, Search And Rescue had to be called.  In attempting to work their way back to the beginning, they got hopelessly lost.

In social interaction, this very same kind of mistake is often made regarding the interpretation of other people’s actions.  For example, if I do not like you, then I will be reluctant to spend any time with you.  Let’s say I do not like you.  Therefore it stands to reason that if you invite me to your party that I will do my best to avoid going.  This is a valid line of reasoning, but I am already privy to my own motivation.  I didn’t really need to reason it out to know what I was going to do.  The real deduction comes from the person who is trying to figure out why I did not attend his party.  I was invited, but I said I was busy.  I was invited again, but I was still unable to attend.  Yet again, I was invited, but I still found a reason to decline.  The other person observes that I seem reluctant to attend his parties.  He knows very well that if I dislike him, then I will try to avoid attending his parties.  Therefore, he concludes that I do not like him.  However, working forward was like traveling downstream, and working backward was like traveling upstream.  While one motivation yields a predictable result, the motivation is not necessarily predictable from the result.  I don’t attend his parties, because he serves alcohol, and I am uncomfortable around it.  I don’t attend his parties, because he plays the music too loud.  I don’t attend his parties, because I have really bad flatulence, and I’m afraid of embarrassing myself.  I don’t attend his parties, because I’m infatuated with his sister, but I’m so shy that I’m afraid to be around her.  I don’t attend his parties, because I’m a very busy person with very many obligations, and I really have no time to attend.  Working backward from the response to the motivation, our lines of causation are divergent.  We may never really know why a person seems to avoid us, unless that person tells us, and maybe not even then.

But we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and we imagine the circumstances that would have gotten us from the motivation to the outcome, and we use that to determine what the motivation was.  Generally, we choose the conclusion that involves the fewest specifics, the details that we could never guess, or else we choose the conclusion with the most egocentric basis, the one that pertains specifically to me.  I don’t know what goes on inside your head, and I don’t know what goes on in your life, so my understanding of you is limited to generalizations that could apply to anybody.  I don’t have any way of knowing that you are overwhelmed with the burden of raising your kids.  I might have guessed it, but if I am not, or have not been, in a similar situation, then I might not understand.  What I can apply to anyone who knows me is that they have an opinion of me.  Add to that the fact that my whole world revolves around myself, I’m far more likely to assume that your behavior has something to do with me.

Tracing back a person’s behavior to that person’s motivation is tricky, so long as that person is not me.  It gets trickier if that person is from a different culture.  In Japan, the open expression of anger is greatly suppressed.  Therefore, it finds its way out in very subtle ways.  This passive-aggressive behavior often tries to say, “I hate you,” through the little things in life, like a drawer left open, or a dish left unwashed, or a task performed slowly.  Understanding the Japanese mindset requires amplifying their actions.  An American missionary to Japan once told me that her roommate confronted her for hating her.  She was shocked that her roommate thought she hated her.  The evidence for this animosity amounted to a number of trivial things that had nothing to do with the American’s feelings for the Japanese friend.

In contrast, the Russians are known for being painfully blunt with their feelings.  If a Russian hates you, then that person will likely tell you.  You simply don’t need to guess.  Consequently, I find that Eastern Europeans are generally easier for me to get along with, as my reticence does not cause them to wonder if I dislike them.

A Japanese man once invited me to dinner for the sole purpose of deliberately making wrong turns on the way there, spending the entire time trying to tell me not to be a racist (I couldn’t convince him that I wasn’t), and making me pay the bill (which I could not afford).  I barely knew the man, but he had decided in the few minutes that I had known him that I simply did not like him.  The dinner was his way of getting back at me.  For the life of me, I cannot fathom what I did wrong.  All I had done was sit in the same room with him for a few minutes without engaging in conversation.  He took that as an expression of dislike, I suppose.

Relating to different cultures is relatively easy, compared to relating to different species.  Sometimes people get bit by their own dogs because they hug the dog around the neck, putting themselves over the dog’s shoulders.  To us, it is an act of affection, but to the dog it is an assertion of dominance.  Some dogs don’t mind.  Some retaliate.  When dogs fight, the winner proclaims its victory by putting its head upon the other’s shoulders or over the other’s neck.  When a dog does it, the motivation is one thing, but when a person does it, the motivation is another.

Relating to other species is easy, compared to relating to something as vastly different as God.  What goes on in the mind of an omniscient God is an endless enigma.  The reasoning behind any action could have such a vast array of possible causes and motivations, that understanding him becomes an almost hopeless Gordian knot.  Most often the best answer to why God did something is, “I don’t know.”  As is generally the case, we tend to overlook the many details that we could never guess, and we opt for the explanation that relates most directly to ourselves.  A bad thing happens to me, and I conclude that God must not like me.  In so doing, I may have followed the stream uphill, and been misdirected to a tributary that went another way.  The fact is that I don’t know why bad things happen to me.  I might never guess the feelings he has for me, unless he tells me.

I used to think that the Bible was a form letter.  It seemed like a generic letter of love written to everyone, in general.  Then, it seemed like a store-bought greeting card, written by someone else for no one in particular, given to me by a God who loves me.  People are very egocentric.  If a speaker gets on stage, smiles and says, “I like you people,” they take it personally and impute that the speaker really does like them.  In truth, no such assessment could hold any meaning.  The entire group cannot be evaluated like an individual.  The same seems to hold true for God’s love expressed to us in the Bible.  In this we are at a crossroads.  If we ask, “Does God really love me?” we are left with life’s circumstances, which tell us nothing, and a Bible not written specifically for any particular person.  Tracing God’s actions backward to his motivations is an impossible task.  Without the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, without God simply telling us in his own way, we are at a loss.

Jesus loves me,

This I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me, this I know, because he told me so, himself.  The Bible tells me that he loves the world (John 3:16), and I need his Spirit to make it personal.





The True Atheist

22 02 2010

Often, the Christian fails to live up to his, and God’s, moral standards.  Much finger-pointing then ensues from those who claim to believe neither in God nor absolute morality.  The atheist does not charge the believer with failing to uphold atheistic standards, but, rather, he condemns the Christian for failing to be a true Christian.  The atheist has no standards, for the whole world is a colossal freak show to him, and morality is just an opinion.  He then has no real basis for judging anyone else’s actions.  Therefore he must judge others by their own standards.  The unavoidable consequence is a double standard.  If the Christian fails in little ways, then he is a hypocrite.   If the atheist fails miserably, then he’s okay, because that’s just the way he happens to be.  Instead, the Christian is judged for identifying the atheist’s moral failure for what it is.

If I fail, then shame on me.  If you fail, then shame on me for noticing.

The true atheist is a mythical being, forged from fantasies.  He does not care that others think that there’s a God, nor that they consider him bound for Hell.  He does not slander believers for believing, because their faith doesn’t matter any more than their and everyone else’s existence.  He is a criminal, who behaves himself only when such is profitable.  The laws of men are weak to stop him, and crime often pays.  He sees nothing as right or wrong.  He does not help the needy, for anything not able to live on its own might as well die.  He sees natural disasters in the same way that he sees the victims of natural disasters: both are products of random chance without inherent value, and both are temporary.  He steps over the bodies of the suffering.  He demands no justice, for there is no such thing.  He offers no pity.  He expects no meaning or purpose in life.  He has no hope, beyond that this life might treat him kindly and then stop suddenly, without much pain.  He has no reason to get out of bed in the morning, except that he is driven by the motivators of simple pain and pleasure.  Humanity is an illusion, being in truth no better than animals, which are merely sophisticated varieties of common minerals in aqueous solution.  He has no reason to condemn others’ shortcomings.  He has no reason to get angry.  Though he experiences pleasure, he has no real reason to be happy.  His only objective is to pass his genes to the next generation, yet, ironically, that objective was no one’s idea and need not be achieved.  The true atheist does not exist.

The true atheist would be a dangerous, unpredictable and selfish beast.  In as much as one approaches true atheism, one becomes a threat to others.

Purpose and meaning are things that can only come from God.  You can attempt to create your own, but you are not the author of your own life, and anything you manufacture is playacting.  Right and wrong are things that can only be determined by God.  You can invent your own standards, but, then, so can the next guy, and no one need do what you think is right, not even you.  The atheist, the breed that actually exists, loves to put God on trial and condemn him for his mismanagement of our world.  Again, on what basis does an atheist condemn anyone?  He puts himself in the role of God, holding his own standard in higher esteem than God’s, and he attempts to sit in judgement over the Almighty.  If my own code of ethics has independent merit, then I am a god in my own right.  If I hold it over God, then I have usurped him, not unlike what Satan had intended to do.  But doing so requires there to be a God, and the existence of God undermines the atheist need to be a god.  If he cannot be a god, then he cannot hold others to his standard, which, by all appearances is what all atheists seems eager to do.

The real atheist, the one that really exists, is irritated that others believe in the existence of God.  He mocks them at every turn.  He struggles to bend public thought his way.  The schools must teach his views, and the media must assume him correct.  He develops rationale for explaining his own existence without God.  He hates the implication that he is a sinner bound for Hell.  The real atheist is sometimes dishonest and sometimes criminal, but he actually prefers to see himself as a good person, and he will actually make some effort to be one, even though “good” is not a real concept to him.  He sometimes soothes his conscience by helping the needy.  He raises your taxes to make sure you’re doing it, too.  He is horrified by natural disasters, for they remind him of his own fragility, and he is fully conscious of the human tragedy.  He insists on justice, even if he cannot define the basis for justice.  He feels pity for the downtrodden, and he doesn’t even reconcile this with his own logic.  He longs for meaning and purpose, but he rejects the existence of either.  All he has is pain and pleasure, and he spends his life trying to minimize one and maximize the other, as though it mattered.  He values the company of other people, even if they are just coincidental arrangements of organic chemicals, nothing more.  He mourns their loss, even if they were no one’s handiwork and by no one lovingly created.  He is quick to condemn politicians and especially religious leaders for moral shortcomings, even if he doesn’t believe in morality.  He is easily angered.  He seeks to be happy.  He raises his children, when he no longer feels like aborting them, and he worries about what the world will be like for them when they grow up, though he won’t be there to care.  He worries about global warming for his progeny, though, logically, it should not matter at all to him, because it won’t affect him.  He sometimes loves, even if love is just a biochemical trick.  He is the real atheist, and he is a living, breathing oxymoron.

He says that there is no God.  He desires no God.  He thinks that there is no God.  But he lives as though there were a God.  His actions betray his words.  Fortunately, actions speak louder than words.





Peace of Mind

15 02 2010

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)

Politics makes excellent fodder for a heated discussion.  Living in a representative government gives us the feeling of empowerment, that our leaders are our servants.  We take personal responsibility for the fate of our nation.  When our elected officials make a mess of things we get angry, because we feel responsible for having given them that authority.  Much of what we see in the news is about politics.  Friendships are forged and broken over political affiliation.  Yet, we give ourselves too much credit.  A person gets one vote.  That one vote among many gets two choices.  Will it be Republican or Democrat?  Anything else, and the vote is wasted.  People judge us by whom we would vote for, but we really have so little choice in the matter of our governance.  Both parties are corrupt.  One wants to take over our lives quickly, and the other wants to take over our lives slowly.  Both are faithless, immoral aristocracies, bent on gaining power.  They gain power by getting elected, and then they gain more power by ascribing more authority to themselves.

One can easily become frustrated over politics.  I can clean my house.  I can order my own little world.  I only think I can order my country.  In truth, I have almost as much say in the workings of my representative government as I would under a monarchy.  It’s like playing the lottery: an expired lottery ticket is only less likely to win by one in ninety-four million.  The difference between an old ticket and a new one is almost inconsequential.  My one vote among millions is not significantly better than the opinion of a man living under an unelected king.  Granted, the mass effect of an entire nation of votes is significant, and I should continue to vote, but I would not benefit from taking myself too seriously.  I, personally, have little say in the matter.

People pull their hair out over politics.  Yet, they are almost entirely helpless to do anything about it.  A key to happiness is to avoid dwelling too heavily on that which a person cannot change.  You were handed a life with certain conditions that you had no hand in making.  You can make yourself miserable by worrying over the evils that were handed to you, or you can find those things which are in your power to affect, and then affect them for the better.  You get one vote.  You only get that one vote.  Don’t treat it as something more than it is.  The governance of your country is likely not in your hands.

You can put your faith in God.  No one can take that from you.  You can put your mind at ease by ordering the little piece of the universe that God has placed in your hand.  Take charge of what is really yours.  Let go of what is not.  If you can’t kill the rats of angst that gnaw at your mind, then remove yourself to a peaceful place.  While it lasts, there are still places of beauty in this world.  There are still decent people among us.  There is still a way to live at peace.  Thank God for what you do have.

In the end, life is not what you make it, in an absolute sense.  It is what you do with what you’re given.  Some people are given more and some less, and different people are sure to have different outcomes and accomplishments.  Sure, under better circumstances you could have made more of yourself, but that isn’t really the point, is it?  Anyone could do better under better circumstances.  The issue is what you did with whatever circumstances life threw your way.  If unfairness comes your way, then the matter is not whether things should be fair, but what matters is what you did with what you had.

In a sense, life is unfair.  People start out with all kinds of advantages and disadvantages.  Down the road, more are added to the mix.  In a sense, life is perfectly fair, because initially everyone had an equal chance of being born in anyone else’s shoes.  Whether chance or divine providence chose your origins, the only question you have left to ask is, “Where do I go from here?”

Somewhere out there is a beautiful place, and you can find it.  Somewhere out there are nice people, and you can be one.  Somehow, there can always be meaning in your life.  You can always live to serve the God who made you.