The Target that Hit the Bullet

28 05 2012

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that the suspect is sitting in the witness stand, giving testimony on his behalf.  The defense attorney, of course, is about ready to crawl under the table and do himself in, because he knows his client is guilty and, to make matters worse, exceptionally foolish.  With great animation and apparent self-confidence, the accused explains that he did not, in fact, cause the bullet to fly from his gun at the victim (may he rest in peace).  Rather, the victim, reckless man that he was, actually rode the rotation of the Earth straight into the bullet.  Because the gun was fired in a westerly direction, the bullet was essentially released in a stationary position, and the accused did nothing at all to propel that bullet toward that victim.  Even after the jury hands down its verdict, the defense attorney scuttles out of the room in shame and the bailiff begins to drag the man off to prison, the accused is still shouting at the top of his lungs that he is not to blame if someone else manages to impale himself on a stationary object left behind by him.  The argument, you see, is that the Earth is not stationary, but that it actually rotates.  In fact, it does so at considerable speed, even  to the point of negating the velocity of the bullet.  The jury, without even realizing it, makes their judgment based on the premise that the Earth is stationary and the universe revolves around it.  Otherwise, the bullet never moved, because the gun was fired toward the west.

After writing that last paragraph, I had to walk down the hall and get a cup of coffee.  Incidentally, the cost of coffee has gone up so much that I’ve resorted to doing something that I swore I’d never do again, which is to buy a generic brand.  So, as I’m walking back with the brew that will likely make me sick to my stomach, I might have wondered if I was walking in a westerly direction.  Actually, I did not worry about that at all.  The fact of my movement down the hall was, however, a matter of speculation.  You see, we judge the movement of an object by the change of its location relative to its surroundings.  I knew that I was walking down the hall, because the bigger picture, the whole rest of my environment, appeared to be moving with respect to me.  Excuse me, I mean to say that I was moving with respect to the rest of my environment.  In the early geocentric world, all things were judged with respect to the Earth, because the Earth and everything on it was the bigger picture.  If your location (or your bullet’s location) moved with respect to the Earth, then we would have said that you (or it) moved.  Of course, we’re wiser, now.  Our horizons have broadened, and we realize that there’s a great big universe out there.  The background, the bigger picture and the surrounding environment are now the universe, as a whole.  We say that the universe is stationary and the Earth is moving.  To say otherwise would require an even bigger picture by which to judge the movement of the universe.

A former coworker of mine was poring over the diagrams of the Ptolemaic model of the universe, the geocentric view, and he marveled at how stunningly elegant the designs were.  In truth, it took a great deal of math and mental stamina to follow and diagram the movements of the heavenly bodies according to a geocentric view.  I responded that it was, actually, possible to think of the universe in geocentric terms, but it required a great deal more math, and the description was a heck of a lot more complicated.  He looked at me with a startled expression, not quite that I was mad, but that I had challenged his most basic assumptions.  I hereby renounce any responsibility for his admission to a psychiatric ward shortly thereafter; it was a preexisting condition, and I had nothing to do with it.  We often mistakenly think of the heliocentric model as the simplest explanation of how the universe works, but we would be wrong.  It’s actually not an explanation of anything.  It is a description, but not an explanation.  The whole model depends, very heavily, upon an understanding of the nature of gravity.  While we know much about what gravity does, we know absolutely nothing about what it is.  Much speculation exists as to the cause of gravity, but there seems to be no good evidence, or even any bad evidence, to suggest that any of it may be true.  The rule of thumb (Occam’s razor) is that the simplest explanation is usually the best.  We don’t have any explanation, so we’ve settled with the next best thing, which is the simplest description.  Heliocentrism is the simplest description, because it uses the least math to tell us what to expect from moving objects in the universe.  The description for geocentrism is far more complicated than the description for heliocentrism.  Therefore, heliocentrism is deemed correct, and geocentrism is deemed a falsehood.

Yet, despite all of that, the jury, which claims to believe solely in heliocentrism, still convicts the man on a geocentric reasoning, that being the same geocentrism that they would in any other setting have called a complete falsehood.  While heliocentrism may be technically true, it is only practically true to astrophysicists.  While geocentrism may be technically false, it is practically true for everyone in every situation but space exploration.  In fact, a small amount of geocentrism exists even for an astronaut standing on the moon, because the Earth is still the center of his universe.  We still say that the sun rises, never giving the slightest care to the fact of the Earth’s rotation.  If I hit you, then you don’t care which direction I’m swinging and whether or not you technically hit my fist with your face.  Either way, I need to start running before you come to your senses.

As I’m running, two things at once become very clear to me.  The first is that I haven’t been getting enough exercise and will likely not outlast you, but this is largely irrelevant.  The second is that you really do care which way I swung my fist; you just don’t care which way it was in relation to the Earth or its rotation.  This brings us to an even more practical, yet highly incorrect, technically, view of the universe, which is an egocentric one.  Suddenly, I realize that I never called it a sunrise because of geocentric notions.  I don’t really care what it’s doing in Japan unless I happen to be in Japan.  I don’t look at a sunset and say, “Oh, look at the Indian sunrise!” because I neither know nor care what it happens to be doing for the Indians, or the Pakistanis, or the Iranians.  You, likewise, are not really shocked that I hit someone, or that I hit in a direction other than West (though, we all know by now that I ought to be forgiven if it happened to be West).  No, the only directions you know are relative to your own person.

When I was a baby, I thought the whole universe revolved around me.  When I got older, I learned on my own that it did not.  With education, I learned that the universe does not even revolve around the Earth.  With a higher education, a divine one, I learned that the universe does not even revolve around itself.  As previously stated, we judge the motion of an object by its change in location relative to its surroundings, the bigger picture.  Beyond the confines of this universe is God.  The universe is contained only within God.  Therefore, while egocentrism is more practical than geocentrism, which is more practical than heliocentrism, and while heliocentrism is technically more correct than either of them, theocentrism is the card that trumps them all.  When we were egocentric little babies, as some of us still seem to be, all things related to our own personal needs, yet the whole world was largely out of our control.  When we grew into geocentrists, as kids, we had a better handle on the world, but we still lacked maturity.  As heliocentrists, we of the adult world have maturity, but, like the baby, there still exists that outside element of our own destiny, which not only eludes us but utterly terrifies us.  The world may come to an end by collision with an asteroid, or the world may come to an end by environmental disaster, and no one can say otherwise.  When limited to heliocentrism, this way of thinking is true in a practical sense, though it is not technically true.  Practically speaking, it could happen, but in the big picture, things are not really so far out of control as that.  The universe does not revolve mindlessly around itself.  The relationship of I and the Earth is such that I revolve around the Earth.  The relationship of the Earth and the universe is similar, and the universe does not revolve around the Earth.  Likewise, God does not revolve around the universe, but if his attention is fixed on the Earth, and the Earth abides with God, then, from the biggest picture of all, the universe really does seem to revolve around the Earth, not that the Earth is really its focal point, but that the Earth happens to be aligned with the ultimate focal point.  The same could be said for human individuals.  Does the universe revolve around a person?  No, but it revolves around God, who may abide with that person, having a similar effect.  Looking at the universe as the biggest picture still convinces us that we are merely lost in space, but looking at God as the biggest picture, space becomes the moving object, while the human being remains stationary, so long as God is with him.  It’s a coincidental alignment.  People feel like the center of the universe and know that they are not, but still, the original impression might lie closer to the truth than realized.

This brings us to the problem of destiny.  The truth of the matter is that there are really two polar-opposite meanings of the word.  One is egocentric and the other is theocentric.  I could say that God has called me to be a prophet, or that I am destined to do something great, or that I am destined to take over the world, or that it is my divine mission to eradicate the world of an unwanted race of people.  All of these things, from pastor and prophet to emperor and mass-murderer, are a product of the egocentric meaning of destiny.  It’s a question of what God has planned for me.  God revolves around self.  Really, it’s a very practical outlook.  The world’s most successful people tend to live on that kind of a sense of destiny.  It’s also untrue.  It’s only good until things go wrong, or worse, when life turns out to be extra-ordinary, instead of extraordinary.  Where is the destiny, then?

Destiny as a theocentric view takes a different meaning.  No matter who you are or what you do, the world does not revolve around you, and the universe does not revolve around your planet.  You can rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, but it still ends up sinking.  You can institute environmental policies and struggle to save the Earth, but life on Earth still comes to an end, and the sun eventually winks out.  In the end, the bigger picture wins.  Earth trumps the human.  The sun trumps the Earth, and God trumps everything.

Destiny is a paradox.  When I say that I sawed a piece of wood in two, you might imagine that the log was held in place while I dragged the saw back and forth on it.  With destiny, the reverse is true.  I held the saw in place with a vise and dragged the wood back and forth on it.  Either way, the result is the same (except that the second way left me badly in need of a bandage).  Did you do the act because it was your destiny, or did you do it because you chose to?  Did you shoot the bullet at the victim, or did the victim fly eastward and hit the bullet?  In the end, no jury changes its mind about your guilt because of the higher understanding.  It was your destiny, and you chose to do it.  You shot the gun at the victim and he flew eastward at you, piercing himself on your motionless projectile.  Still, you are punished because you chose to do it.  You are punished because you shot the gun.  Galileo is in the restroom at the moment, and he isn’t here to defend you.

The screaming continues down the corridor, something about the speed of the Earth’s rotation as it relates to the circumference of that line of latitude, versus the speed of a bullet, but the door shuts and we hear nothing more.  All rise….

Advertisements




Stony Soil; of Love and Listlessness

4 02 2012

Alda is the nicest little old lady I know, and, honestly, I have trouble even calling her a little old lady, even though she is little, and she is, technically, old.  She’s got the liveliness of someone years younger.  One day, while we were in the kitchen chatting, she told my wife and I that though she had loved her late husband for many years, she never was really in love with him.  They treated each other lovingly, but the emotional appeal wasn’t really there.  She told us that she wanted to remarry, to have a chance to be deeply in love with someone.  She said she wanted a marriage like ours.  Now, my wife and I have been married for years; we are definitely not newlyweds, but I would certainly say that we are still very much in love.  It’s really just a matter of emotion.

Some couples are just married and some are just married.  Either they’re just married, as in recently married, or they’re just married, as in not living life to the fullest, content with just being married.  It’s a rotten stereotype, and it’s not always true.  While I’ll grant that the happiest married couples are generally the ones who still have rice in their hair, marriage really does get an unfair treatment.

First comes the infatuation, then the disillusionment, and then comes the “mature” love, which essentially boils down to treating each other fairly and raising kids together, without all of that emotional impetus that got them together in the first place.  In other words, marriage has a nasty habit of turning into something more like a business agreement.  It’s a convenient way to have a warm body in bed, and it’s a stable arrangement for rearing children.  It would seem that romance was nothing but a bait-and-switch trick of the hippocampus.  Does marriage always follow this course?

You see, I have to ask, because the relationship of the church to Christ is that of a bride.  The nature of a marriage parallels our relationship with our savior.  Consequently, Christians often go through the same stages in their pursuit of the faith that many couples endure over their years as spouses.  Jesus likened faith to a farmer casting seed around his land.  Some of the seed landed on the path and never took root.  Some landed on the stony soil and sprouted quickly but never took deep enough root to survive.  Some seed grew among thorns and got choked out by the weeds.  Then, there was the successful seed.  In the application to marriage, the seed that lands on the path is the unrequited love.  You courted her, but she was not interested.  You flirted with him, and he moved on to greener pastures.  Likewise, God courts some of us, and he is shunned outright.  The love is never reciprocated.

Then, there is the seed that lands among the thorns.  You fell in love.  You married and raised a family.  Then, the effort of raising kids, maintaining two incomes, maintaining outside relationships, maintaining the house, etc. all worked toward alienating you from the one you married.  The weeds, the distractions, grew between you, and you found yourself married to a stranger.  Similarly, the act of being a Christian and doing Christian things, coupled with all of the other distractions of life can add up to finding yourself a stranger to God.  You find that you’re still going through the motions, but that romance, the initial emotion that drew you into a relationship to begin with, is gone.

And then…there are the stony marriages.  The infatuation is there.  The feeling is intense, but it goes no deeper than a feeling.  After the initial thrill wears off, there’s no substance to hold the marriage together.  It withers and dies.  This is, really, the three-step marriage cycle most commonly described by the psychologists.  Just because you found a way to get along and keep the marriage going, doesn’t make it a success.  The romance is dead.  You love, but you’re no longer in love.  The common belief is that this is truly mature love.  This is correct.  It is mature love, but that doesn’t make it ideal love.  The common parallel to spiritual life can be found among charismatics.  The charismatic church is, by far, the best at evangelizing, at bringing unbelievers into the fold.  The non-charismatic or even anti-charismatic church seems more largely composed of those who either grew up in that kind of church or switched over from a more charismatic church after becoming disillusioned.  Their view of the charismatic faith is that such faith is shallow, lacking in substance, development, commitment and wisdom.  Very often, they’re absolutely correct.  Charismatic faith is saturated with feeling and emotion, and it is very often not backed up by anything more substantive.  The seed fell on the stony soil and sprouted rapidly, but it never found any depth.  They fall in love, and then they get bored or fall out of love.  Then, very often, they leave.

Contrary to the anti-charismatic opinion, though, the emotional appeal of charisma is not a weakness.  That’s actually the strength of it.  The weakness is the lack of depth.  The seed was not faulty because it sprouted quickly.  The seed was faulty because it never gained any depth.  Charismatics are not to be faulted for their emotional drive.  The lack of emotion is the weakness of the other side.  We ought not to curse the stem for the lack of roots, when the stem is the only thing going right.  Similarly, disappointed and cynical failures at romance ought not to criticize the young lovers for being  infatuated.  The young lovers are the ones who really have a good thing going.  There’s really no reason to aim for unfeeling marriage.  The real fault of young love is that it often does not have the depth to remain in the beautiful and glorious state that it’s already in.  Emotional love is the goal, the thing to be aimed for.  It is not the error of the immature.  Falling out of that state is the error of the immature.

The real aim of a successful marriage is to sprout that romance and grow it, keeping it alive and well by developing the depth necessary to weather good and bad days, the ups and the downs in life, and yet never cease to be in love, not just loving.  The aim is to be permanently infatuated.  After all, some seed does fall on the fertile soil.  It sprouts up like the seed among thorns and the seed among stones, but the difference is that it stays that way.  The other two don’t.  The former charismatic looks back on the emotional thrill ride of that former life as an empty shell.  He thinks he is wiser, and he’s right.  He is wiser, but he lost the romance in the process.  His marriage to the faith is still loving, but he is no longer in love.  He went through all of the stages of marriage, from infatuation, through disillusionment, to “maturity.”  But he is now a cynic.  Those three stages are the phases of the stony soil faith.  He won’t pray for healing.  Why?  Because he no longer believes.  He won’t seek out prophecy, because he no longer believes.  It’s in the Bible, quite clearly, but he still rejects it, and he rejects it on the basis of being a Bible-only believer, ironically.

The former charismatic says she was not saved because of the charismatic church, but in spite of it.  That’s like saying she didn’t get married because she fell in love, but in spite of it.  This is patently false.  She could blame the charismatic church for not giving her the tools to become strong in the faith, but she could never claim that the passion and excitement of faith, of real mountain-moving faith, repelled her from that faith.  We all come to Christ by falling in love.

It’s not common, especially these days, to find an old married couple, still holding hands and casting adoring sidelong glances at each other after half a century of marriage.  It’s not common, but it happens.  I wish it would happen to us all.





Dipolar Christianity

9 01 2012

For those who weren’t paying attention, over the years the Christian faith has largely split into two camps, the highly charismatic, and the cessationists.  It used to be that we identified ourselves along the lines of protestant and Catholic, but in places where that battle has come to a truce, more or less, we’ve come to divide ourselves along the line distinguishing ourselves between those who expect God to work miracles every day and those who think that all miracles died with Jesus and failed to rise again.  Unbelievers like the first group, because they’re easy to mock, and they like the second group, because that form of Christianity is so dead that it poses no real threat to secular normalcy.

Before the old protestant-Catholic battle, there was the Catholic-orthodox conflagration.  Before that, it was the Christian versus the Jew.  With the earliest split, the Jews were the persecutors, and the conflict ended when a third party, Rome, trampled all over Judea and made the Jewish divine privilege look like a bankrupt gentleman’s club.  Then the Catholics split from the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholics became the persecutors during the crusades.  Then the protestants split from the Catholics, and the Catholics were still the persecutors.  We can thank Napoleon for confining the Vatican to a tiny little plot of apolitical territory.  Since that emasculation, we’ve only found our nemesis in the Anglican Church (the other papacy), which persecuted people as power in England shifted back and forth between the Catholics and the Anglicans between the times of Henry the Eighth and Queen Elisabeth, and the Episcopalians (the other Anglican church), which brought us the glorious Salem witch trials.  Are we done yet?

One would think that we could be done with dividing ourselves into fundamental opposition.  Here, in the United States, the Catholic church has no power to persecute.  The Orthodox barely exist.  The Jews control the media (just kidding).  Actually, Jewishness has lost its cultural identity to such an extent these days, that they could hardly be considered a social force at all, anymore.  These should be the golden days of Christendom, but we apparently seem addicted to culling the herd and refining our social set to the true faith.

On the one hand, we have the Vineyard, the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Church, etc., along with some really wild charismatic offshoots, doing their best to promote glossolalia, prophecy and miraculous healing.  On the other hand, we have all of the old-school mainstream churches such as the Methodists, Wesleyan and the Northern Baptists taking the tamest and safest route to faith, which is to say that God ignores you until you die (until he kills you), and then suddenly he becomes your benefactor and your very best friend, ushering you into Heaven.

If I had no clue which were true, I would have to say that I would rather be a Charismatic and be wrong than be a cessationist and be wrong.  I would rather live with the hope and faith that God still intervenes in our lives and performs encouraging miracles along the way, even if I’m wrong, than believe that Christ abandoned us when he ascended into Heaven, and be wrong.  At least, if I’m a charismatic, I have hope.  If I’m a cessationist, then I lean upon the arm of an apathetic God.  I would least want to be a cessationist and be right.

If nothing else, at least the charismatics have the guts to stick their necks out and make themselves an easy target.  The other extreme believes in little more for this life than does the unbeliever.  It’s easy to say that we can expect nothing miraculous until after the grave, because it can never be tested or verified.  This is really just a lame excuse for faith.  The faith of the believer approximates the faith of the unbeliever, and that’s nothing to live by.

On the other hand, because the charismatics do stick their necks out and stand for the miraculous, the result is that we’ve had a lot of rolling heads over the years.  We have the miraculous speaking of other languages (glossolalia), and those languages often don’t exist, and often, just based on what’s being articulated, the person could hardly be speaking more than repetitive gibberish, anyway.  We have notorious cases of miraculous “healing” that did little more than prevent the victim from seeking conventional medicine, even to the point of death.  We’ve had outrageous preachers who blaspheme, distort and self-aggrandize.  In short, charisma has come to be synonymous with sensationalism.

The truth of the matter is that in a side-by-side comparison, the charismatic movement will always provide plenty more fodder for debunking.  They get it wrong and they blunder several times a day, globally.  The cessationists never prove wrong, because they never stand for anything.  Claims can’t be false if they’re never made.  The positive assertion is always the riskiest assertion.  The skeptic’s position is the easy one, in all respects.  It’s always easier to sit back and poke holes in the opponent’s claims than to stand up and make a positive assertion about anything.  Ambitious people fail more often than the lazy, because they try more often.  Professional sportsmen fail more often than the armchair quarterback, because they play more often.  Hence, charismatics make fools of themselves, and the cessationists do not.

If we take the Bible at its word, then miracles do still happen.  It’s exactly as the charismatics say, but it is not necessarily as often, or under the same circumstances.  Of a thousand prophecies, one may actually be true.  Of a hundred-thousand speakings of an angelic language, maybe one is genuine and useful for teaching a person of the gospel.  All it takes is one example of a genuine miracle, and the cessationist is proven wrong.  He is not proven right every time the charismatic offering comes to naught.

Personally, I understand both sides, and I respect both to a great degree.  One is hopeful, and the other is rational.  One runs blindly, and the other convinces himself that he sees nothing.  I would love to see both sides in the same church, waiting patiently and expectantly for the move of the Holy Spirit, not daring to make it happen by their own will, and not daring to condemn it out of hand.

My brother, a charismatic preacher, once asked me if my church was the kind where the Holy Spirit moved, or whether it was one that didn’t believe in the work of God.  I said, “Neither one.”  Then he asked me if it was the kind that believed in the work of the Holy Spirit, but was essentially dead, waiting around for something that never happened.  He believed it to be the saddest kind of church.  Oh, but it was not that at all.  It was the most honest kind of church.  It was the kind that refused to prevent the work of the Spirit either by faking it or by dismissing it before it even happened.  It was a church that remained on the verge of something big.

What the church needs today is not a hyper-rational sect of witch-hunters tearing down the charismatic movement.  It would be better to die young than to discourage and dismay the body of Christ, first.  What the church needs is not a three-ring-circus miracle roadshow, condemning the cessationists for their lack of faith.  The only thing worse than a lack of miracles is disillusioning believers through exposed farce.  Personally, I would love to see more miracles in the church, today, but I want it to be real, and nothing less.

What we really don’t need is another religious split, but that’s what we might get if we don’t treat each other with gentleness and respect, not for having perfect theology, but for being a child of God.





Repairing to Mr. Coffee

7 07 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





The Angry Atheist

7 06 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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





Lion Of Babylon, by Davis Bunn

28 04 2011

Christmas found me halfway through a free online book by Mary Shelly, called The Last Man, a story about how a plague wipes out the entire human population of Earth.  At least, I think that’s what happens, though I haven’t finished it, yet.  Shelly was, by the way, the same famous writer who wrote the classic story of Frankenstein.  When I read stories written by women, I generally expect a romance, or some melodramatic tale of a destructive relationship.  I suspect that Mary Shelly had a brutal childhood.

Christmas rescued me from this madness with a tall stack of books, which managed to last just up to my birthday, when I was gloriously bestowed with another tall stack of books.  Needless to say, I like books.  Specifically, I like novels written by Christians.  I considered that I could start a web log on the subject of Christian fiction and actually have plenty of writing material to work with.  Moreover, I might actually be something of an expert on the subject, at least until a major earthquake buries me under these tomes.  However, I realized that I haven’t really earned that right, because I have yet to really write a book of my own.  Criticism is so unbelievably cheap and easy, whereas a lovingly crafted novel is the work of much suffering.   This blog that you read was meant to be timeless.  I wanted anyone to be able to find any page of it at any time, whether tomorrow or twenty years from now, and find it equally relevant (or irrelevant) as the day it was written.  Book criticism is not timeless, and it lacks that certain abstractness about life that I aim to discuss.  Nevertheless, I make an exception here.

My reading marathon ended with Travis Thrasher’s book, Solitary, which must certainly be the single most depressing novel I have ever read.  It’s supposed to be a young adult fiction, but I can only assume it was meant to reduce the world population by pushing suicidal teens over the edge.  The ending was a punch in the gut.  On that sour note, I was to return to The Last Man to see how the whole world dies, when my wife received a free, unpublished novel in the mail.  Apparently, Bethany House noticed her purchasing habits through the local bookstore and decided that she might like an action thriller novel, unasked for, free of charge.  Bethany House doesn’t know my wife.  If the cover doesn’t have an Amish person on it, then she probably hasn’t read it.  Needless to say, she was the single greatest giver of my reading pleasure these last few months.

Thanks to Bethany House for the free book.  Of course, they were probably hoping for some free advertising out of it.  At the least, I’m sure they wanted us to tell our…friends, whatever those are.  It occurs to me that this post was about the closest I could come to paying the $14.99 worth of goods and services needed to cover the cost of it, now that I’ll never need to actually buy a copy.  So, here’s the first post I ever got paid to write, in a manner of speaking.

Davis Bunn’s Lion Of Babylon was a fun read.  I would rank it somewhere in the top twenty percent of Christian books I’ve read.  The setting is Iraq, and three Americans have been kidnapped, possibly for religious reasons, but no ransom has been demanded.  Their intended rescuer, Marc Royce, is an ex-intelligence officer, fired for putting his dying wife above his job.  For some reason, his former boss wanted him back.  Perhaps it was because Marc was a personal friend of one of the victims.  Here you have a guy with no recent experience in espionage, unable to speak the local language, getting dropped into a hostile territory to find some people, without a single lead.  If that weren’t enough, some unknown number of American officials would do whatever they could to prevent this rescue.  Through most of the book, Marc manages to save probably over a hundred people, at least, from children to a very important imam.  In fact, he seems to be doing just about everything except the one mission he originally set out to do.  Doing so earns him the respect of the Iraqi people, who call him a lion, their term for a hero.  There’s more at stake to this plot than the rescue of a few Americans.  The entire nation of Iraq stands to crumble to Iranian control if Marc fails.

The over-all feel of the book is that it starts out with a sort of cloak-and-dagger intrigue, but it ends up as an action-packed gunslinger.  The intrigue unfolds to something not terribly complex.  It wasn’t the book’s strongest point.  Setting and characterization were its dominant strengths.  For an American to write a plot with an Iraqi setting takes a certain amount of research, and Bunn did well enough to convince a reader that he had probably been there, himself.  If I didn’t get a glimpse into the post-war life in Iraq, then the book did an excellent job of tricking me into thinking that I did.  Bunn’s characters were easy to like, and, except for the protagonist, were utterly human.  He tried to make Marc a realistic personality, but it’s hard to have a character save a nation and still seem like the sort of person I might have met in church on any given Sunday.  I liked this book.  It felt genuinely Christian.

ADVERTISEMENT fake ad, "Stinky Wet Goat" perfume

So there’s your fifteen dollar post.  I would hate to think that anyone might accuse me of getting very much steeped in commercialism, though.  I mean, I would certainly write a post in order to get a free book, but I wouldn’t stoop to loading my blog with advertisements.  I’m not doing this for the money, after all.  Well, I wouldn’t over-do it on the ads, anyway.  I’m not advertising a book.  I just thought I’d happen to mention it.

Incidentally, the ISBN number is 978-0-7642-0905-5, available July 2011.

ADVERTISEMENT fake ad. Stylommatophora is a snail.

If any publishers out there want to send me another free book to review, send them to…eh, well, take a wild guess.  This isn’t a commercial web site after all.  It’s not like I’ve sold myself out, or anything.

ADVERTISEMENT

fake ad, wanted to call it something else

This blog brought to you by:





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.