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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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.





Myth Makers’ Challenge

24 09 2010

I took nearly two decades to get the joke.  When I finally did, I had to laugh at the sky, for all it was worth.  The man who pulled the prank was memorable enough, with his large light beard that couldn’t make up its mind whether to be blond or gray.  Add to that the stark contrast of his leather pants and his blouse with little flowers printed on it.  He was man enough to make a floral print blouse look masculine.  He was a big hefty man with a twinkle in his eye like merry old Santa Clause, which I later realized was the mirth from beguiling a group of children.

On the ground a circle had been drawn with a stick around a group of objects.  The man told us he had placed them there, and he offered us a prize, a token that was part of a larger game, if we could look at the clues within the circle and tell the story behind what had happened.  Everything we needed to know was within the circle, and we were not to enter that circle, lest we disturb the evidence.  One of these pieces was a tomahawk, firmly stuck in the ground.  Near it was a bear trap with a scrap of an animal’s fur trapped tightly within its jaws.  There may have been other clues, but these were the ones I remember best, because they were most central to the story which I had developed about the scene.

My idea was that a man had set a trap, which then trapped an animal.  When the trapper returned to his trap, he found the animal struggling for freedom, so he took his tomahawk and was about to kill the beast, when it made a valiant effort to tear itself free, leaving a chunk of its flesh behind.  In his haste, the man dropped his weapon and set off after the animal, to catch it with his bare hands, if possible.  Otherwise, he would have taken it with him.

I remember another boy’s story, that a trapper was visiting one of his traps when he was attacked by a bear, causing him to drop his weapon and flee the scene.  Everyone had a different story to tell.  Each looked at the evidence contained within the circle and conjured an explanation for it.  Then, we all waited patiently for the man with the beard to tell us which one was closest to the true story.

His shoulders bounced with his silent laugh, as he gave a sideways glance at a friend.  “What do you think the true story is?  Do you really think that’s it?” he coached us.  Then he asked us, “Do you think there really is a true story?”  I didn’t get it.  He seemed to be suggesting that all of the ideas were equally true.  Choosing his words carefully, he asked us, “Do you remember what I said in the beginning?  I said I put a few items into a circle on the ground, and I wanted you to look at the evidence and tell me the story of what you think happened.  So far, none of you has even come close to the truth of it.  Look again and see if you can tell me what happened.”

In response, I believe he got a lot of blank stares from some vexed children.  I looked at the items within the circle yet again, wracking my mind to figure out what story they were supposed to be telling, but the one I had was already the one my mind had settled upon.  We begged him for the “true” story, and he eventually relented, giving none of us the desired prize.

“You want to know the true story?  I already told you the true story!  Do you want me to show it to you?”  he exclaimed.  “First, I came over here and stuck the tomahawk in the ground like this, ” he said, pantomiming the act of slamming the small axe into the ground.  “Then, I came over here and opened the bear trap just enough to put a piece of fur in it, which I laid down, here.  Then I drew a circle around it like this,” he said, retracing his movements every step of the way.

Of course, we all felt cheated.  We thought that we were supposed to find the story behind the evidence, which we had taken to mean the intended fictional story, otherwise known as the “true” story.  We didn’t realize that the true story was exactly what he had told us at the beginning: the objects got into the circle because he put them there.  If we had taken him at his word and simply told him what he had told us, then we would have guessed it correctly.  Had he merely invented a story to suit his fancy, he would have judged our fictional tales against his own fictional tale, which would have been just as valid as comparing ours against each other.  Evidence never really points to anything but the truth, though we might try to make it look otherwise.  Therefore, he would have been wrong in suggesting that his own tale was the truth behind the evidence.  The only truth that the evidence pointed to was that someone had put a few items on the ground and drawn a circle around it.  The answer was so obvious that we missed it completely.

In the beginning, God drew a circle, called Earth, or the Universe, and he placed several items into it.  He told us outright that he had simply put these things there, and then we proceeded to invent stories as to how these things really got there.  We overlooked the simple explanation, the one that was told to us originally, and we tricked ourselves with our own fancy tales.  When told that we were wrong, that all of these things were simply put there, we took the truth to be a cop-out explanation of the evidence.  The fact is, a simple creation story is just too plain to capture the imagination.  It’s not the sort of conclusion that the imaginative and inquisitive mind looks for.  Yet, it is the truth.  A “true” story of any other kind is not really true.  One version is as good as another, and possibly better than the official version, so long as none of them is the truth.

Science is really good at studying things that generally happen, but it makes a foolish effort to play at writing history.  I can say that dogs tend to bite invaders who climb over the back fence.  If I see a man climb a fence, then I might say that he got bit because he was an invader.  However, if the man was entering his own yard after accidentally locking himself out at the front door, whereupon he discovered that his neighbor’s dangerous animal had dug under the fence into his own yard, then what we have is a story that is entirely possible, but not a matter of common occurrence.  The evidence still points to the truth, but it does not cause us to find the truth, because it points to something less likely.  In fact, the less common the event, the more likely it is that the evidence points us to the truth while directing us toward a falsehood.  In the case of the origin of life or the origin of existence, itself, the event is so unlikely that it happened only once, and we have not observed it to happen again.  In this case, neither the dog, nor any other animal, has ever bitten anyone, and no one has ever been locked out of his own home, or, for that matter, even owned a home, so we might never conclude the truth when the unique situation actually occurs.

The fact is simply that every single one of us is a natural-born myth maker.  Every civilization has looked at the world around them and invented a story about how it came into existence.  The nature of that story depends entirely upon the nature of the one making that myth.  Whether a giant god died and became the Earth, or some team played with a fiery football and got it stuck on the sky, or whether a giraffe’s neck got long from struggling ever to reach the highest leaves of a tree, these are all fables, as is the fable that some rudimentary ape climbed down from a tree and started a fire with two sticks.  We think that other cultures have silly stories, but we take ours to be the truth.  In the end, Darwinism is no better than Aesop’s fables, or else it is worse, because we are dumb enough to actually believe it.

It’s the myth makers’ challenge.  God filled the Earth with a bunch of stuff and had us set about making history.  In the end, we wrote many stories that all sounded better than the truth, and the truth was what he told us in the very beginning, that he simply put it there.  It was too simple to be understood.  It felt like a cheap story from a bad storyteller, and we felt cheated.  It wasn’t supposed to be that obvious.





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,





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.





Descent into Royalty

18 04 2010

[fiction]

No cell phone for  a week was punishment enough to send my teenage daughter into fits.  Try no cell phone for a lifetime.  We add to that no internet, no text messaging, no blogging, no computer games.  That’s only a half-truth, though.  In reality, I’m stuck with no computer at all.  For that matter, I’m without electricity.  I don’t even have a land line.  I couldn’t call 911 if I needed to, and if I could, there would be no one there to answer it.  I have no car, but at least I have no gasoline to put into it.  When the sun goes down, I tell someone to burn something, and my home, my cold drafty stone prison, is dimly lit by a conflagration that makes my eyes water.  I spend the evening listening to someone play a song on a “stringed” instrument that I’m sure must be strung with actual cat gut.  The poor beast seems to holler with every tortured pluck.  The alleged minstrel hasn’t discovered homophony yet, either.  I’ve tried to teach him, but he seemed to think me mad for suggesting that he play more than one string at a time, and in retaliation he threatened to drive me mad, as if to prove him right.  I wonder often what might be playing on the old plasma screen, if such things existed, if there were any programming being broadcast anywhere.  I’d even take a little black and white cathode ray tube, if I could.  Forget the television.  I would give my kingdom for an AM radio to make me feel that there was life out there, somewhere.

The sun sets slowly, and the cold eats its way through these stone walls, right into my bones.  Tonight, I shall sleep on a sack of grass, the haunt of fleas and mites.  The servants shall have it heaped with lilac and some other flowers whose names I never learned, as if that helped.  My bed will be warmed by the fetid body of another man, my servant, because the men in these parts do not believe in sleeping next to their wives.  My wife seems to agree with that tradition, and so I am condemned to live like a student in an over-crowded frat house.  I spend my days in an uncomfortable hard chair, listening to the droning of stewards and bailiffs giving account of the day’s revenue.  So many heaps of that crop, so many piles of cordage collected.  And for entertainment, there’s a child with Downs Syndrome dressed in a jester’s outfit, doing his best to be silly.  If an award could be given to any person with the highest happiness-to-investment ratio, that kid would get it with no contest.  He’s got even less going for him than I do, but I don’t remember ever having a day quite as good as the one that he seems to be having at this moment.

I didn’t used to be in these miserable circumstances.  There was a time when a domain was something that followed the letters, “http,” a colon and a couple of slashes.  Now those were the days.  I lost hours in front of the computer, playing games and reading stuff I don’t remember.  Then I lost the rest of the time lying on the couch, snacking and staring like a zombie.  Between the two, there was always the MP3 player.  I had a job that I thought I hated.  I had a daughter that thought she hated me.  I was lower-middle class, but I had the world at my fingertips.  At work, I was the bottom of the totem pole, and I hated it.  Now, I’m a king, and I’m wishing I could be at the bottom again.  My biggest thrill is to drink melted chocolate from a small glass cup.  Did you know that glass is scarce here?  That’s why they have to cover the windows with great tapestries that keep out the sunlight.

Ah, but I’m a rich man.  I haven’t had a bath in weeks, can’t remember the inconvenience of having to wait for the tap water to get warm.  I smell like a compost heap.

My name was Edward Aisin.  I met a dope on the net who thought he had a design for a time machine.  I took one look at his plans and recommended a good psychiatrist.  A year later, I realized he was not far off.  At least, he seemed to have the theory of the matter down, solid.  With some spare parts salvaged from the junk in the garage, I made a flimsy hack job of a time machine.  It was mostly tape and glue, an entry for a fifth-rate modern art show.  The on-button consisted of two bare wires that sparked when they came together.  The device roared to life, and I wriggled through it, barely managing not to break it asunder in the process.

The next thing I knew, I was sucking on tepid milk.  Well, let’s not go into details, but I think I lost a month to mental development shortly after birth.  I must have wasted half a year in coming to my senses before I realized what had happened to me.  Oh, certainly, I went back in time, but my body did not go with me.  I was back to being imprisoned in a crib, in a world without satellite television, a world that barely had satellites.  I thought, then, what a wretched soul I’d become.  The freedom of adulthood was lost.  My car was gone.  My favorite songs had not been recorded yet.  My entire CD collection was gone, along with the very idea of a CD player.  I was a man trapped in a baby’s body.  I had to wait half a decade for the invention of the Atari, just so I could make little squares move across the screen and pretend that they were airplanes and submarines.  Science fiction movies had terrible special effects.  The internet had technically been invented, but no one had access to it.  Life had become boring as snot, and the spare parts and junk that I called a time machine must have stayed in the old time.  I imagined it would sit there and hum happily, until someone discovered it and unplugged it…except that it hadn’t been invented yet, so technically, I could turn it off myself if I wanted to…in a few years, but I’d have to invent it first.

But, who wants to drag through a few decades of dull childhood, endure puberty all over again and slowly return to the starting point, just to turn off a machine that I left running when I left home?  If I had known that it would not come back in time with me, then I never would have used the thing.  I thought I would come back as a middle-aged, overweight man, not return to the womb and live a rerun.  The second time around just wasn’t the same.  For one, there was no way I was going to let my mother boss me around.  I may be a child, but for crying out loud, I’m a grown man.  I was ten years old before I managed to scrape enough parts together to build another time machine.  By then, I devised a way to really go back in time.  The previous design had wedged me into the past, where I didn’t belong except where I already belonged, if that makes any sense.  I could only go back as far as I existed.  The new design was substitutionary.  I would trade places with something else.  I don’t know what I thought that thing would be, perhaps a rock, or a gerbil, or something.  I hadn’t considered that I might be stuck living life as a gerbil (oh, what a thought).  I wonder if I’d still want to raise a family, at that.

On the night that I had planned to restore my dignity, my father grounded me for my insolence.  Of course I was insolent.  He wasn’t going to ban me from watching television, because I was already banned from it, so I had to spend the evening holed away in my bedroom.  But, as soon as they were asleep, I sneaked out to the garage and activated the device.  It hummed and lit the garage with its eerie glow.  I could hear someone’s voice coming from it.  Eagerly, though somewhat wary, I crawled into it and found myself standing before a haughty, effeminate pansy, adorned with jewels and lace.  He was flipping his wrist in my general direction and telling me where to go.  Not knowing any better, I did what he told me to.  “Edward,” he said, “There’s a reason why I run things around here.  The sooner you learn it, the happier we’ll all be, so run along to your room, then.”

Being, by now, used to this treatment, I did what he said.  Down the long stone corridor, the servants lead me to my room, where my wife was waiting.  By the looks of things, she was expecting more than just me.  She looked like she could give birth at any moment.  I stared at her dumbly, wondering who I was and how old I was.  Five minutes ago, I was a child.  Two minutes ago, I thought I was a teenager, by the way I was being treated.  Now, with my pregnant wife before me, I wondered just how old I really was.  She looked…ashamed.

Philippa was her name, as I later discovered.  When I had married in my former life, we waited until we were nearly infertile before having a child.  We deemed it greatly important that our children, who turned out to be only one child, be blessed with all the wealth that we had been raised with.  In retrospect, I suppose we overestimated our own childhood.  As kids, we had nothing.  It makes me wonder why we waited so long.  I think it was simply that we could not bear to part with all of life’s trappings and freedom.  We waited and waited.  The house was never big enough, never had a big enough yard, and so on.

Now, I was practically a child, living in a castle, married with a child on the way.  As it turned out, I was still Edward.  I just happened to be a different Edward.  The fop in the hallway turned out to be a man named Mortimer, who slept with my mother and killed my father.  As it turned out, the hat on my head was a crown, but I needed a full month to come to grips with who I was, because I was treated about as much like a king as were the king’s dogs.

To think of it, I was a king!  What a glorious happenstance!  I went from the bottom to the top in a second.

But the joy was short-lived.  As I discovered, the real King Edward was a weakling.  He had allowed himself to come to this place where his mother’s paramour ruled the country while he sat in a back room and played the good little boy.  The father was dead at the hand of Mortimer, the philanderer, the adulterer.  I decided, then, that I would not be the obedient milksop that they had expected.  The moment my wife gave birth, our lives would be in grave danger, for we would have an heir.

Needless to say, I overcame my circumstances.  We killed Mortimer, and I assumed the throne as a real king.  When the real King Edward traded places with me again, he would find his life much improved.

A year later, I found myself bored out of my mind, wondering if I could be developing a case of sciatica, sitting on the throne and staring out the open window at the fading twilight.

Some people think that if they could go back in time that they would change the world.  Certainly, I knew much that the rest of the world did not know.  I knew that the Black Death was coming.  I knew a few things about hygiene, and I knew where penicillin came from.  But all of my advantage could not procure a single television.  Oh, man, I know so much more than these people.  Compared to them, I’m practically omniscient.  Yet, for the life of me, I can’t remember how to produce gun powder.  I tried to explain to some artisans how to engineer an aircraft, but while they could make the wings, they could not fashion the engine.  I told them how to make the engine, but they could not quite shape the steel, nor refine the oil.  I told them how to refine the oil, but they could not find how to drill for it.  On and on it went, one technology building upon another, yet, at the end of the day we still had nothing.  Anything less than a functional plane was nothing but modern art.  If we could not do that, then the time machine was well beyond our grasp.

To my horror, I realized that I was stuck in this world of the mundane, condemned to remain a king.  After a time, the amusement of riding on horses, impaling helpless porcine creatures with sharp metal objects lost its appeal.  After a time, the court musicians and dancers were nothing but a pathetic appeal against lethargy.  I had to get out, or I would lose my mind.  Therefore I outfitted the army with more soldiers, finer armor and handful of newly built trebuchets.  I don’t think that the old Edward had ever owned a trebuchet in his life.

It was a fine day, sunny and fresh.  We stood arrayed against the Scottish castle, ready to do battle.  They watched us from atop the walls, wary and unprepared.  The first shot from the catapult signaled the beginning of the siege.  Blood coursed through my veins with excitement.  This was the first bit of excitement I’d had in years.  In the next moment, the drawbridge lowered and a parley was had.  They wanted nothing to do with this battle.  But I had just spent good money outfitting my men and purchasing the new siege engines.  I would not have my fun spoiled by a bunch of cowards.  We refused their unconditional surrender and made them fight us.

A few hours later, we rode over the broken bodies of villagers who wanted nothing better than to be left alone, to live their ordinary lives.  We took our loot and returned quietly home.  Near the road, I spotted a column of smoke rising from a small knoll.  Veering off toward it, I discovered that it was a dugout home, a mere hole in the ground with a sod roof.  Looking in under the apex of the roof, I saw a young man, maybe seventeen, sitting on a stool and telling a story to a group of children.  His wife sat in the corner, working on some needlework.  When he noticed me, he leaped to his feet and hurried out to greet me, more in fear for himself than because of my celebrity.  “Your highness,” he stammered, “I am your humble servant.”

I looked at his dwelling distastefully and said, “Man, you’re living in a hole in the ground!”

“It is my home,” he said apologetically.  “It is not much, but I am pleased to have a roof over my head.”

I poked disdainfully at the sod.  “And I thought my life was bad.  What are you having for supper?”

At this, a worried expression fell across his face.  “All we have is a loaf of bread and two fish, but we’ll be happy to share it with you.”

“No, I don’t want your food,” I snapped.  “How can you live like this, man?  What do you do for fun?”

“I beg your pardon?” he asked.  “I tell stories to the children.  Otherwise, I don’t have much time for fun.  I am but a peasant.  Much work is required to live, but I am grateful.”

“Grateful?” I scoffed, “For what?  To whom are you grateful?  Me?”

“I beg your pardon, your highness, but I am grateful to God.  He has blessed me with a home, a family, and enough food for tonight.  I thank God because the rain falls from the sky, and the grass feeds the bagots, and there is milk for us.  I may not be a king, sir, but I am rich… in a way.”  He looked to his feet in fear of punishment, probably for claiming to be wealthy with respect to me.

I sat back on my horse and looked around at the fog rolling over the green grass, growing like a carpet over the downs.  A few feet away were a handful of goats grazing on the lawn.  The dirty faces of little children gazed up at me from under the roof.  The wife was watching her beau with adoring earnestness.  They were but kids with kids of their own, living in poverty, and this was all normal for them.  They were even worse off than I was.  They were far worse off, but they were happy.  At least, they were happy enough to marry and build a home and be a family.  They would not have the luxuries of a mere king.  They would not have the modern luxuries that I knew as a child.  They would never know all of the wonders and technology that I had grown comfortable with as an adult.  Yet, here they were, living in a hole, and they were happy because they had a roof, a scrap of food and each other.

I was a king, and I lost sleep over my lost plasma television.  I was never hungry, but I was never happy.  I was at the top of my world, but the bottom of my own heart.  I had everything, but I was thankful for nothing.  I wondered, almost seriously, if the peasant had come full circle.  I could almost stoop to try to live like that.

Almost, but not quite.  “Let’s go,” I commanded my men, and we continued home.  At least, I suppose it was as close to being a home as anything would ever be.

[/fiction]