Cornucopia from Hell

12 12 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just saying….

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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.





Rattlesnake Mountain

18 04 2011

We were all there in the open field at recess watching James’ dad get blown to bits.  James was even there with us.  Of course, we had no idea what we were looking at.  It was one of two plane crashes I remember seeing from that same playground during my time in elementary school.  The small aircraft hit close to the peak, igniting a fire that spread and rose until it engulfed the top.  What is fire to a little kid?  What is tragedy?

A few years ago, I noticed my goldfish staring in awe at a candle I had placed near the fishbowl.  Where, in nature, do fish confront fire?  All of the beasts in the forest know it well.  At the first scent of smoke, the bees start packing up the honey.  The deer flee for their lives.  Even the snakes head for the water.  All of the animals of the forest know what fire is, and they fear it dreadfully.  The fish don’t have a clue.

There we were, like a pond full of goldfish, staring at a fire, and somewhere in that fire was our classmate’s father.  We didn’t have a clue.  I remember when he was called out of the classroom.  I remember the next day, staring up at Rattlesnake Mountain, with its ashen gray cap, and freckle-faced Brent exclaiming, “Dude!  That was James’ father!”  He kept saying it until it finally hit home with us.  The teacher may have told us all at the same time, but I don’t remember.  It was a hard thing to grasp.

James was rare for being a black kid in a nearly all-white school.  He was one of only about three non-whites I think I saw in the seven years I was there, five non-whites, if you count the faculty.  He was extremely quiet and well-mannered.  So much more dramatic the change when he began biting and kicking his fellow students for no reason at all (I thought).  We were only second-graders.  I had no idea what it was like to lose my father.  All I knew was that my classmate was behaving like a rabid animal.  Shortly after that, James moved away, and we never saw him again.

And then I had my own Rattlesnake Mountain, that same year.

Christmas came, and I got my very own Starscream Transformer robot toy.  I remember it well, and I remember how it came with two left hands and a missile that broke as I was detaching it from the forms.  I recall the evening when I sat on my father’s lap, and he helped me put the decals on the toy.  He had the sticker for the shiny gold eyes grasped in a pair of tweezers.  He hesitated, he breathed deeply, and then he gave me the tweezers and set me down on the couch and wandered off.  I had no idea that I was witnessing my forty-two-year-old father have a heart attack.  Once I finished the decals myself, I wandered about, looking for my parents, when my older siblings informed me that they had gone to the hospital.  My mom came home late and alone.

The next day was business as usual.  I thought my dad was going to die, and there I was in school, doing what I did every day, helpless in my circumstances.  I don’t remember why, but I found myself biting and kicking my classmates like some rabid animal.  Yes, now I could relate to James.  I was horrified at my own actions, watching myself transform like a young Jekyll and Hyde story.  The teacher knew something was wrong at home.  She pinned a note to my clothes and admonished me to leave it there until my mom took it off.  I don’t know why, but I wore the note all the way home, without trying to read it.

The next day, my mother kept me home from school and took me to visit my father in the hospital, instead.  That was all it took to make me a happy well-mannered kid again, seeing him alive and in good spirits.  My first day back at school, the teacher pinned another note to my clothes, thanking my mother for whatever it was that she had done.  “Now, don’t take this one off,” she said, “This is a good note.”

In second grade, my parents were enormous giants to me.  The prospect of my dad dying was like the prospect of God dying.  This one who should have been too big to fall, this all-providing source of survival was at death’s door.  I can well imagine how Christ’s disciples might have panicked at the death of their rabbi, a surrogate father, but more, something like Father God in the flesh, too big to fall, dying like a mortal.  One can see Peter’s fight/flight response, cutting off a servant’s ear one moment, and denying Christ the next, having witnessed the death and destruction of the man who always had all of the answers, the one who could not be touched.  There he was, the apparent source of life and health, bleeding on a cross.  Christ’s mountain was called the Skull, but it was the place where the snake had bitten him on the heel, symbolically.  It was his Rattlesnake Mountain.

It recalls to mind the various faces of the September 11 attacks, all of those close shots of people hanging out of windows to escape the fire.  Those must have been someone’s fathers and mothers.  I can only imagine the horror of having watched it happen to a loved one.  Much worse, to have seen the face of one clearly, on a newspaper or on television.  When I watched the tsunami roll across Japan, it was like the plane crash at Rattlesnake mountain, like a goldfish staring at a flame.  It was mesmerizing, but it was nothing personal to me.  I feel like I should sympathize more.  I know I would feel much different if that tragedy came to me.

Deep in the recesses of my mind, I wonder if we’re all destined to feel the pain of those victims.  We’ll feel their pain, or we’ll feel that pain.  I pray to God that the pain is only sympathetic.  If that’s all I pray, then I probably am not sympathetic.  And, if I am cold, then perhaps the hour has come for God to break me, that I may bleed, and, having bled, I may learn to feel again.





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.





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.





Carte Blanche Philosophy

5 09 2010

Bed and breakfast inns are a hobby of mine.  With most things in life, I think like a middle class citizen: I look to buy things that give me the most for what I pay.  Lower class mentality looks for the cheapest options.  Middle class seeks value, and upper class simply seeks out the best things.  When it comes to lodging, I tend to break out of my middle class mentality and splurge a little.  We all have something like that.  For my grandmother, it was perfume.   For some people it’s a nice car.  For me its a nice inn.

In a lovely coastal town there sat a lovely little inn, famous for having been there almost as long as the town.  The inn, over-all, was first-rate, with heated towel racks, an oak-paneled lobby with a small library of books, complete with armchairs that squeaked like some ancient thing from a bygone era.  In the morning, we found our way to the parlor, where we were to be served the second B of our B & B.  Usually, the host might ask us for the specific way in which we preferred to have a meal prepared, or else we might be served whatever the host had already prepared.  Usually, that’s what happens in these places.  Surprisingly, this host entered the parlor, clasped her hands together and asked us, without preface, what we would like for breakfast.  My first thought was how amazing it was that we might be served whatever we asked for.  My next thought was that, despite my experience with a variety of delicious offerings at other places, I could not, for the life of me, recall the names of those exotic dishes.  The following thought was that, even if I could remember what they were called, it was highly unlikely that the man in the kitchen could possibly serve up a single plate of any of them at a moment’s notice, even if he were the world’s most renown chef.  Therefore, I must assume that while the menu was theoretically limitless, there still had to be some practical limits to what could actually be prepared.  When I asked what could be made, the answer revealed to me that very little was really on the menu at all.  I ended up eating french toast for breakfast each day.  The paucity of options was disguised by the open-ended question.

In a typical restaurant, we might have the luxury of choosing from a list of repasts.  In a very small establishment, like a B & B, the customers are so few that the proprietor cannot afford to avail an entire list of options.  Instead, we typically get the single option handed to us on a menu the size of a business card, which is often mounted in a special holder near the middle of the table.  Now, the first menu appears, at the outset, to be the better of the two.  We are offered, first and foremost, the luxury of choice.  Unfortunately, what this means is that the odds are not so good that we might happen to choose the best item on the list.  We must resign ourselves to an inferior dish, perhaps.  When the menu consists of a single option, the onus is on the host to choose the best meal possible, and the necessary ingredients, however exotic, may be supplied in advance, with no fear of them going to waste.  The single-item menu is like the best item on the multi-item menu, with the added benefit that it can consist of expensive perishables, being that they don’t have to sit around and wait for someone to ask for them.

Now, the blank menu, at first, seems to be the biggest menu of all.  One would think it was limitless.  That’s the art of its disguise.  In truth, though, while it sets no limits on what can be ordered, it still doesn’t really offer anything.  If a larger menu almost guarantees that we won’t order the best thing, then a limitless menu makes one wonder if we might order anything good.  This is the paradox of a boundary.  Sometimes, a fare without limit is a fare with no offering.

In the most liberal of worldviews, we find philosophies with no moral restrictions.  We might marry anyone, or anything.  We might keep a vow or break it.  We might lie, cheat or steal, or we might abstain from such things.  We might eat, drink and be merry, or we might inject, snort, smoke and blow our minds.  We could vandalize a wall, a website or our own bodies.  We could talk like the devil, live like Hell and still expect a Heaven on Earth.  The complete rejection of religion is the rejection of boundaries.  It is a man who knocks down the walls of his house, because he finds the space too confining, only to discover that he is now homeless.

A world without God and a world without religion is a world at your feet.  You can do anything that your heart desires, and then you can die.  You can populate the Earth, build empires, amass wealth, attain celebrity and struggle to carve out your little Avalon.  You can have anything and everything, except for the only thing that you really need.  The blank menu offers everything and nothing at the same time.  It has no limits, which is easy, because it has nothing to offer.

For, without God, there can be no purpose.  Without him, there can be no meaning at all in life.  In fact, there can’t even be meaning to the idea of meaning.

When the house is on fire, you can run any way you like, but the only way that matters is the way out.  You can have it all, because it all has your destiny, which is the destiny of death.

When the atheist says that your purpose is whatever you make it, what he really says is that there is no purpose.  When the postmodernist says that all ideologies are equally good, what he’s really saying is that they’re all equally worthless.  When the host says you can have whatever you want to eat, what she really means is that she has nothing much to offer.  The best menu is the one that has only one option on it.  We give you the best thing we know, and we stake everything, our reputation, our lives, upon it.  You can take it, or you can refuse it, but there’s only one best way.

That way is Jesus, the Christ, who paid for our sins that we might be saved.  You can take it or leave it, but I’ll not offer a list of choices, nor will I lie and tell you that you can have whatever you want.

Sincerely,





Not Every Apple Has a Worm

22 07 2010

Welcome to my home.  I would love to offer you a cup of coffee, but I am unable.  It would be brewed from a Mooka Express, dark and heavy, laden with a syrupy sweet creamer.  Granted, you could have it light or dark, whatever your preference.  I would love to offer you a cup, but I’m afraid you’ll have to serve yourself this time.  I cannot see you.  I will not hear you.  I am unable to do anything for you, except that I might talk to you.  For this, I am grateful.  The experience is not unlike praying to God, I might suggest.  Here you are, in my home, flanked by books and a computer, overlooking my living room, where my wife rests on the couch, reading.

I invite you into my castle in the lingering twilight, waiting for the various stained-glass  lamps to turn on by their timers, because I want to show you an example of what a life might be.  It is not an ideal life, by any means, but it seems to exceed the limits that some seem to put on their own expectations.  When I was first married, my father told me what many others have said, that marriage has its ups and downs, that marriage is a lot of work, but it’s worth it.  Some would have said that marriage isn’t worth the effort.  Not one single person ever told me that there was any chance that marriage would be a wonderful, easy cornucopia of joy.  No one said that I could, even remotely, hope to have years and years without a serious disagreement.  They only told me that I’d eventually grow tired of my wife, and that we’d need a television to keep us entertained.  My brother told me that after two years a couple is no longer considered newly wedded.  After that, I assumed we were to merely settle into a comfortable but dull coexistence.

A blogger whom I respect even said, outright, that couples who never seem to have troubles suffer from a shallow relationship.  It’s that dark problems and heavy disagreements can never arise between two people who are never really close to each other.  The implication is that in order to have a healthy marriage, one must occasionally be miserable.

Had I relied solely upon my parents’ stormy marriage, I might have believed these suggestions.  Had I relied on my brother’s disastrous and nearly fatal marriage, I might have never been married.  The fact is that I simply did not fall in love and commit myself to this other wonderful person because I have at the back of my mind the sadistic need to be lambasted periodically by the one person who has the real power to absolutely destroy me.  No one marries because they want more hardship.  We all marry because we want to fill our lives with bliss.

I want to show you that my marriage has been happy, in a way that the world would call unrealistic.  It has not been a lot of work, and there have not been any serious bumps in the road.  I do not say this to brag.  I say it because if you don’t think it is possible, then you will never achieve it for yourself.  I want every marriage to be stable and dripping with mutual love and adoration.

To counter the arguments made by the nuptial pessimists, I thought to suggest what one might do to arrive at a lasting, happy marriage.  I must admit that I am at a loss.  Marital advice is thrown at us from every corner, mostly by people with failed marriages.  They are the people whose marriages have been to Hell and back who have the most advice to give, but none of these people can conceive of one without trouble.  To them, the spark of romantic love always turns to a devastating inferno.  Happy people are too busy being happy to write about it.  That’s why most poems are sad.  Therefore, I’d like to show you a marriage that has, after a reasonable span of years, not lost what it set out to accomplish, which is the mutual and uninterrupted increase in happiness.

If you say that this is impossible, then I would kindly ask you not to insist upon it.  Nothing hurts joy worse than the belief that it can not exist.  More importantly, if a nobody like me can make a marriage work, then anyone can.

Granted, the most important step, I think, was in choosing a suitable companion.  I understand that not all marriages are matches made in Heaven.  I understand that not everyone is like me, but, more importantly, not everyone is married to my wife.  I can only control one half of the relationship, but therein lies the first step toward a healthy marriage: not attempting to control the other half.

But though we cannot help what comes to us, we can only help what we do with what comes to us.  If every marriage began in love, then every marriage has something to return to.  It can always be restored to an earlier point.  Ideally, it can always be restored to the beginning.  The reason that we drift from this is simply because we have the innate tendency to get used to our own lives.

Take, symbolically, the little girl with the doll house.  The doors in the little structure move on hinges, and she is delighted.  The furniture can be rearranged, and the little lights can be turned on or off.  Clothes hang in the closet.  The mother stands in the kitchen, and the father sits on the sofa with his newspaper, and the girl is delighted by everything and every detail.  She loves her house as it is.  In fact, she loves it more when it is built to imitate real life.  When she reaches adulthood and marries, she might have a house of her own, which she is delighted with, at first.  When was the last time you opened a door and remarked, “Wow, the doors even open and close!  And the lights even turn on and off with this little switch, here!”  Never?  The fake has been usurped by the real, but while we were impressed by the fake, we are unimpressed by the real, because we are overly used to it.  A very important key to a happy marriage is to live like a couple of kids playing house.  Play is fun, even when it’s an errand.

Feminism has wrecked our society.  In an attempt at “equality,” wives have gone to work, just like their husbands.  As a result, the cost of living, namely the cost of home ownership, has increased.  Now, one would seem to need two incomes to survive.  But while the husband comes home from work to enjoy himself, the wife comes home to continue working.  The home seems to be the workplace of the woman, even when it ostensibly is not.  In attempting to be the man’s equal, the woman works twice as hard.  I can only imagine the resentment that must build with time.  We can say that the husband should do his share of the work around the home, but the fact is simply that in most cases the wife will be the one to clean the house, prepare the food and raise the kids, more than the man ever will.  She does it, because she cares more about these things than he does.  I must say that one major contributing factor to our mutual happiness is that my wife does not work outside of the home, except to volunteer occasionally for charity.

In saying all of this, though, let us not forget the importance of faith.  If husbands would love their wives as Christ loved the church, then our marital problems would be half-solved.  Our love could not be broken, even by death.  If we displayed the fruits of the spirit, if we loved each other selflessly, then we could not go wrong.  We would never have a grudge to hold.  If we prayed for humility, and if we submitted ourselves to the will of God, then we would not dominate or belittle each other.  If we both hold true to the passionate love of the same God, a determined love of his righteousness and a shared awe of his glory, then we share the most important thing of all.  Everything else is negotiable.  Every material item is a fleeting piece of matter.  Every physical want is just a passing gas.  The only thing that matters is the one thing that we can always agree upon.  We are both tied to the same anchor.

Not every apple has its worm.  The cynic would love to dig into every relationship until he finds the problems that the couple works so hard to hide.  Sometimes they work at hiding their troubles more than they work at preventing them, but not every relationship is laden with such things.  There is no perfect relationship, as there is no perfect car, but there can be a spotless, lovingly maintained one that looks like new, even when it is decades old.

I wish the best to you and yours.

Sincerely,