Death by Convenience

12 08 2012

You’re driving down a local highway in your Dodge Ram, and it’s raining.  We could argue about your choice in vehicles, but that’s not really important.  It just happens that a Dodge Ram is parked in a bad and annoying place right now, and I had the time and audacity to go outside and take its measurements, for want of a more amusing pastime.  Did you know that the side door is two and a half feet high, and four feet long?  You don’t care.  Of course you don’t care, because you’re too busy trying to steer through the rain.  It doesn’t help that your tires lost traction, and you barreled down an embankment right in front of a bridge, landing you in the river.  Naturally, your first inclination is to open the door and escape your rapidly sinking vehicle.  What’s that you say?  You can’t open the door?  Oh, yes, well, that brings us back to the dimensions of your door.  Did you know that water weighs about 62.4 pounds per cubic foot?  Please don’t yell at me; I’m only trying to help.

Well, fortunately for those of us who never found use for calculus beyond our college years, your door is roughly rectangular.  Otherwise, we’d have to go back and re-learn all that…stuff.  This should help in making the calculations simple.  With the waterline sitting just below the level of the side window, the average depth of the submerged part of the door is about a foot and a quarter.  Because water weighs 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, a depth of one and a quarter feet gives an average pressure of about 78 pounds per square foot (62.4 lbs/ft3 × 1.25 ft).  Because your door is four feet long and two and a half feet tall, giving you an area of 10 square feet, that pressure comes out to 780 pounds.  Fortunately, your hinge takes half of that weight, so you only need to push with the force of 390 pounds.  You can do that, can’t you?  You shouldn’t say those things!  Children could be listening!

If your truck were turned on its side, and you had four and one-third 180-pound men standing on the door, the effect would be the same.  At least, the effect of trying to open the door would be the same, not including the problems associated with hanging sideways.  Never mind the psychological effect of having that third of a man sitting on the door.  I think, now that I imagine it, if I had four men and a third of a man standing on the door of my overturned vehicle, I might consider staying inside and taking my chances with the water, but I digress.  Most people don’t have enough strength in their left arm and left leg to open a door at 390 pounds of force.  That’s about 860 kilograms, for the few of you out there who actually use the metric system…all 6.7 billion of you.  Well, your real problem is that your door opens outward, against the water.  If your door opened straight up, like a Lamborghini, then it wouldn’t be a problem, except for the electrical short-circuit preventing your door from opening at all.

Then, there’s the problem with your second avenue of escape, the side window.  Did you get the option with the motorized window?  You did?  Sorry to hear that.  Well, it was certainly nice while it lasted.  You push the up button, and the window goes up.  You push the down button, and the window goes down.  It’s so much more convenient than having to turn a crank.  Besides, people look at you funny when they get in your car and see that medieval thing hanging off your door.  Next thing they know, you’ll be going outside to start the car with a crank on the front of the grill.  Granted, it doesn’t do you much good, now.  The water shorted the circuit, and the window won’t go down.  It wouldn’t be so bad if your window happened to already be “rolled” down, but people usually do most of their sliding off of roads during storms and freezing weather, which is the least likely time for them to be driving with their windows rolled down.  Although, there was a guy whose door latch froze solid in cold weather, and the door wouldn’t stay closed unless he held it closed, so he drove around with his arm out the window, hanging on to the outside of the door to keep it from taking out a motorcyclist during a curve to the right.  That must have been fun for him, but you’re not him.  You had no problem getting the thing shut.  Now, you just have to get it open, and soon.

Blame the auto manufacturers.  All of their cleverness produced the unsafe situation.  In fact, ironic that it is, they would have needed to be less smart to do the smarter thing, which is to make you crank your own blasted window down.  Then, they would probably sell fewer cars, because the number of customers lost to competition would be less than the number of customers lost to the Susquehanna River (and others), if they had used the electric version.  I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I bet it isn’t “Man, I’m glad I have electric windows.  They were so worth it!”  What’s that you say?  No, I can’t write that in my blog.  I’m trying to keep this PG-rated.

Well, we’ve killed so many of our own babies for the sake of convenience, that I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that we’d occasionally even kill ourselves for it.  Look behind you at the rear window.  Oops, I guess this model doesn’t come with a little rear window for you to attempt to squeeze your fat torso through.  If it had, then you’d still be stuck, because, for the sake of convenience, you may have dined at a few too many fast-food joints.  Oh, yeah.  I forgot.  You’re big-boned.  Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway, because I just looked outside and checked for myself.  You don’t have a little rear window.  What you really needed was a sunroof to escape through.  What’s that?  It would have been an electric sunroof?  Yes, I suppose it would have been, and if it had been a convertible, you wouldn’t have to get out and manually fold it back, either.  That would have been too much trouble.

I’m looking out my living room, now, and I’d say you’ve still got a few seconds to go.  I suppose I’ll call for emergency assistance.  I’d go out there and try to play the hero for you, but…it’s just so much more convenient to make a phone call and let someone else take care of it.

The moral of this story is this: if you’re going to drive a vehicle with electrically operated windows, then, for pity’s sake, do yourself a favor and take the trouble to buy a window breaker, and keep it with you and accessible (and hope a police officer doesn’t charge you with having a weapon within reach while driving).  Window breakers are razor-sharp diamond-edged double-bladed chisels, essentially.  You need them in most places on this continent, except, perhaps, southern California, where a “river” is typically nothing but a dry concrete channel.  However, if you happen to live in the city/ seasonal lake called Carson, then the storm drains are so solidly plugged by the convenience store trash of people who couldn’t bear the inconvenience of taking their own garbage home and putting it in the can, that every time it rains, you find yourself up to your neck in water, even if you stay on the road, then you might consider taking along not only a window breaker, but also a self-inflating life raft capable of holding you and whatever homeless indigent floats your way.  If you give me a ride, I’ll buy you a coffee as soon as it’s convenient.





Systematic Living; the bird who would be caged

6 07 2010

A man named Leo once told me that he thought he would love to have a bird, but he thought it cruel to keep one trapped in a cage.  The beast was made to fly and be free, and here it is, stuck in a tiny little prison.  I asked him if he believed that caged birds were unhappy.  He believed that they must be.  I asked him if he had ever owned a bird, and he had not.  Then I asked him what he thought would happen if a person were to open the door to the cage and walk away.  He said he imagined that the bird would just fly right out.

Now, I’m not a bird expert.  I’ve heard that the zebra finch is very difficult to keep caged if the opportunity presents itself for the bird to escape.  I’ve never owned a zebra finch, but every other caged bird I’ve seen, including the few that I’ve owned, have been very much opposed to leaving their cages for any reason.  I’ve seen cage doors left open for hours, with the bird sitting as far from the door as possible, refusing to even consider leaving.  I’ve seen them fight like mad their owners when they were being forcibly removed.  Once removed, I’ve seen them return immediately to their cages.  In the best of circumstances, the bird might be content to merely sit atop the cage without going in.  When we imagine ourselves as the bird, we assume an eagerness to get out of there and never return, but to the bird, it is a home.  The cage is safe.  We use the cage to keep the bird in, but the bird uses the cage to keep everything else out.

This seems insane to us, doesn’t it?  Who would prefer captivity?  Yet, we sacrifice freedom for security all week.  Let’s start with that mortgage, shall we?  We happily imprison ourselves in debt, assuring that we cannot simply leave our homes at will.  Rather, we are stuck in these abodes so long as we cannot find someone to buy them from us.  We become obligated to a bank, because we like to sleep in the same place every night.  Bad comparison, you say?  Imagine living as a vagabond, a nomad without a permanent home.  Such people have a great deal more freedom, minus the security.

Five days a week, we go to work at the same place, doing the same thing, day after day, after day.  We complain about our jobs regularly, until we lose them.  Then we complain about losing our jobs until we have a new one to complain about.  When we have one, we miss our freedom, and when we don’t have one, we miss our security.  Unrealistic would be the effort to find a new job every day, though many people do it.  I have seen them on the street corner, these migrant workers, waiting for a stranger to show up and offer them an arduous job for not enough money.  They have the freedom, and they prefer it over the security.  When offered a more permanent job, I’ve known of them to refuse in favor of the freedom to retire for a couple of weeks until their money runs out.

When we choose to work the same job every day, no matter how much we hate it, we make a choice to live systematically.  I know what I’m going to do tomorrow, because it will be about the same as what I did today.  The next day will be the same.  The day after that will be no different.  The repetition is painful, but I’ve got an income.  I don’t need to waste time looking for a new job each day.  When I come home from work, I return to the same home every day.  I don’t need to waste time looking for a safe cave or overhang to take shelter in each day.  As a result, my life is more efficient, and my systematic living has bought me greater prosperity.

What may not reason so well into this pattern is the tendency that so many people have of spending their free time in the evenings the same way every night.  For most, it’s a night on the couch in front of the television, watching the same shows each night, as actors pretend to live glamorous lives.  As the actors pretend, the viewers pretend with them, living vicariously through the television.  Yet, no one is actually living life.  When the rest of life is an empty repetition, one should wonder why we would waste the time, that precious little time, when we could do anything with complete freedom without sacrificing security.  What we do for fun need not be the same today as it was yesterday.  It doesn’t even help in the slightest.

What we do in our spare time doesn’t even need to be particularly fun.  It could be anything at all.  It could be productive or frivolous.  We are completely free to do something different with that fraction of each day.  Generally, though, we tend to repeat ourselves in the end, the same as we did in the beginning.

True, we have our preferences.  True, we have our hobbies.  I tend to think, though, that the real driving force is not our inclination toward what we do, so much as it is the security found in lazy repetition.

Our lives are generally repetitious, because we are a systematic people.  It makes us effective in what we do.  It makes us wealthier, and it improves our standard of living, generally.  We love the cage that we have built for ourselves, and we dare not leave it, even when the door has been opened for us.  My cage may be keeping me in, confining me to the drudgery of daily living, but it may also be keeping out the things that frighten me, the insecurities and uncertainties of spontaneous living.

There is a value in systematic living, and our society thrives on it.  However, there is also a danger to it.  When the stables are on fire, the horses are frightened and run into them for security.  They prefer the conflagration over survival, because the stables are a symbol of security for them, even when they are really an execution chamber.  When the government goes mad makes us do what we ought not do, we choose the security of compliance over the need for freedom and rebellion.  Thankfully, we are not there yet, but we will be eventually, and there will be cows among us who wander wherever they are herded.  Going along with the crowd feels safe, even if it deprives us of our freedom.

If God calls us to pull up stakes and travel the world to spread the Gospel, then this is at once a horrible shattering of all security and an unfettering of boundless freedom.  Would that we had the courage.

In the meantime, should we feel tempted to complain about this little Eden that we’ve constructed for ourselves, let us at least appreciate the security that we’ve been granted.  When this Eden is shattered, let us be thankful for the freedom we’ve been leased.  Either way, we could complain, but either way, we could be grateful.





The Virtue of Boredom

27 03 2010

Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone on this, but I have on occasion encountered circumstances in which I was greatly enthusiastic about something, only to get shot down by criticism from friends and others.  I think something is great and exciting, and they think me a fool for it.  Times like that make the safest possible reaction to all things to be boredom and disinterest.  If I’m the unamused one, then I’m the only one in any position to mock or ridicule.  Coolness has the false appearance of strength.  Negativity is the safest position.  A critical person is often the hardest person to criticize.

This is most unfortunate, but therein lies a very real principle that boredom is, in fact, used as a defense mechanism.  The more critical the environment, the more it seems to call for an indifferent response.

Where else can we find a hostile environment than within the four walls of a church?  It is a place of stark criticism.  In one sense, we do need to evaluate our faith and reasoning, but the harsh reality of it is that an unintended side effect can be an unforgiving environment in which a person is not free to worship at will, nor free to be excited about anything.  The trend in many churches, today, is to reject anything extraordinary, even despite the fact that the faith is founded inherently upon the miraculous.  The church is quickly losing its childlike wonder.  They have managed to confine the Holy Spirit to a box.  Prophecy has been reduced to good preaching.  Miraculous healing has been reduced to comforting people and helping them to accept their sickness.  Inspiration means a cut-and-paste of scripture, with no room for real life application.  We don’t have wisdom.  We parrot.  This is surely the safest habit.  Or, it seems so because it is the least extraordinary.

In worship, one would think that the most solemn (boring) means are the holiest.  Hence, we can rest assured that the hymn and the organ are the tools of choice for sending God our… enthusiastic praise.  Is that worship?  Or, is worship a matter of being willing to make a fool of one’s self from an abundance of joy in God?  Ancient Israel and the early church used to dance and sing before Yahweh.  I challenge anyone to dance to a hymn.  Perhaps solemnity has its place, but perhaps we are being too easy on ourselves.

There is no end to this trend.  The Amish have mastered it.  God tells us not to conform to the image of this world, so they have rejected everything about the world.   Whatever the world does, they spurn.  Whatever the world enjoys, they condemn.  The Amish have mastered it, but fundamentalist Christians, of which I am one, are also party to it.  Scripture tells us to be in the world but not of it.  Whatever trends the world embraces, we reject.

Yet, there are two ways to conform to this world.  The first is obvious: we assimilate into it and become part of it.  The second is subtle: we become whatever the world is not.  Never mind what the Bible says, if the world likes rap, then we hate it.  If the world likes rock, then we hate it.  If the world hates strophic chorus, then we love it.  If they speak casually, then we speak like a living concordance.  If they’re accepting, then we sternly reject.  If they wear denim, then we wear polyester.  Whatever they disregard, we hold to steadfastly.

But, not conforming to this world doesn’t mean being anti-world.  Most of the time, this may seem to be true.  The nature of the world is against God to its very core.  But we do not define ourselves by our relation to the world, whether for or against.  We do not follow them, but we do not simply live to antagonize them, either.  We are not here to spite the world, but we are to be godly in spite of it.

The problem with reactionism is that the reactionist is defined by the thing that he opposes.  If we simply live to oppose the world, then our identity is defined by the world.  We must not simply reject a thing because it is worldly.  We must reject it because it is ungodly.  God has nowhere in scripture defined what style of music we shouldn’t sing, nor what materials we shouldn’t wear, nor a variety of other things that Christians so quickly condemn.

Entertainment has a high place in the world around us.  People think that they read the news to be informed, but this is not really true.  They read it to be entertained.  The vast majority of what they read has no practical value and not much accuracy.  Entertainment is what caused you to visit this blog.  Entertainment is what will decide what you do next.  People even eat to be entertained.  They tend to vote for the most entertaining politicians.  To some extent, they even seek entertaining employment.  The church’s response, naturally, is to seek boredom and solemnity.  Not all of us do.  It’s just enough to become a problem.  The idea of Christian entertainment seems somehow blasphemous to some people.  I say that they follow the route of least resistance.  They defend themselves through the virtue/vice of boredom.  They find it safer.  A Christian is not called to be entertained, they say.  Never mind that this is nowhere to be found in the Bible.  In truth, their efforts to become less worldly have actually made them more worldly, even if in a negative sense.

A truly God-centered Christian does not concern himself with what the world does.  If I and my unbelieving friend can find common ground in entertainment, then so much the better!  I am free in Christ.  I am not called to be bored out of my mind.

Boredom is not a virtue.