A Collision of Absolutes

14 07 2014

messageinabottlesigI’m not a chemist by trade.  It just happened that nearly all of the available chemists had tried and failed.  By “failed,” I mean that they inspected the ocean by the direct method of leaning over the railing of the boat and examining it assiduously, as opposed to the intended laboratory method.  While it is true that I was able to perform the task of quantitative chemical analysis while getting banged about the insides of a lurching craft without getting seasick, I must admit that the experience was not exactly a pleasure cruise.  They told me that I would be on the boat for the first day only, and then I was to be on standby, on terra firma, while Carlos, the real chemist, carried the analysis through the rest of the study period.  As soon as he yawned, I knew he was a goner.  By the end of the second analysis, he turned to Felix, our trainer, with a pained look on his face and said, “Felix, I’m not going to be able to do this.”  At that, I was officially the new chemist.

With Carlos lying on a bench in the kitchen, dangerously close to our entire display of food, moaning and rubbing his face, I continued the work with Felix.  In his heavily Spanish-accented way, Felix tells me, “I don’t know why everybody get sick.  I do this many time and feel fine.”  Felix, I conclude, has a botched-up vestibular system, and I tell him as much.  His canals have got to be about one degree short of a full semicircle, or something.  As I’m gripping the counter, waiting for the meter to stabilize, he’s running back and forth across the room, quite literally, unable to find his balance, except on occasion when he crashes into me and grabs my arm for support.  The boss tells me that they’re trying to replace this venerable old man before he gets himself injured…again…, and I quite believe it.

Like the drug dealer I’ve become, I offered Carlos a dose of my chemical secret, but I don’t think it had enough of an effect.  He provided Felix with a moment of delight when he made his inevitable run for the railing.  Much to the old man’s disappointment, there was no feeding of the fish forthcoming.  Carlos managed, just barely, to contain himself.

So I continued the remainder of the study with Felix looking over my shoulder.  We managed to get through the whole thing with only two mistakes.  The first was the mistake made by poor Carlos, who was barely functioning, and the second was made by Felix, which I caught in time to avert any effect on our results.  Consequently, the supervisor in charge of the study approached me afterward to congratulate me and to say that I was officially the main analyst for that study once per year, every year, for the rest of my career.  I’m wondering if it’s too late to switch my line of work.

Michelle, however her name is spelled, rode with us on our last day out.  Not wanting to see her go through torment any more than the last two ill individuals who came before her, I offered her Dramamine before she even got on the boat.  I noticed that giving it to the last two seasick individuals I rode with after they got sick was not entirely effective, so I gave her a half dose, preventatively.  I wondered if she could really handle that much, wispy little Asian that she was.  She did alright, inasmuch as she succeeded in not getting seasick.  However, she’ll need to master the art of chemical analysis while sleeping, which is almost the only thing she did that trip.  She poked her head through the interior window dividing us from the kitchen, where she was, and she asked, “So, you used to talk about theology a lot with Peter?”  Peter is the fellow who performed this task, before wisely taking a severe pay cut and a pastorate in Georgia, getting me stuck as his replacement in the process.

Michelle, however her name is spelled, tells me she is a Calvinist and a member of a Reformed denomination, though, as she puts it, she does not consider herself a “five-point, T.U.L.I.P. Calvinist.”  That’s fine, I say.  I’m a monergist, and so was Peter.  I explain that a monergist is a Calvinist who gets his doctrine from the Bible, not necessarily knowing or caring what Calvin thought about the matter.  “Oh,” she says, in that intoxicated stupor, “I see.”  I begin to resume my work, when she drops a little bombshell on me.  “I’m not so sure about the penal substitution thing,” she tells me, ever so casually.

Penal substitution is this little matter of belief that some Christians have that Christ died on the cross to save us from our sins.  Oh, seriously, it’s the crux of Christianity.  Without it, there is no Christianity.  Michelle had always considered herself a Christian, and everyone knew her as one, so I paused in my work, feeling a little stunned, and I replied, “Uh, Michelle, that’s no small doctrine.”

“I know,” she tells me.  “We can talk about it later.  I don’t mean to get into it now,” and then she promptly went back to sleep.

There’s an inherent problem with absolutes.  The conflict arises whenever there is more than one of them.  We say that an absolute is something that can never, NEVER, be untrue.  It is unchanging across all times and places, and it yields to nothing, which is why it becomes such a paradox whenever one absolute runs afoul of another.  We generally avoid this conflict by saying that God is the only absolute, and there is only one of him.  In fact, it is this absoluteness that gives rise to the very idea of the Trinity.  If we say that there are three of God, then it is the same as saying that there is one of him, because all three are necessarily absolute and agree at every point.  Multiplicity and singularity mean the same thing with an absolute, such as God.  Problems only arise when we have more than one absolute and they are not the same absolute.  Even if we only have one God, we still have a God with multiple attributes, and therein lies the potential for conflict.  Normally, as humans, we frequently endure such internal conflicts.  Sometimes it’s choosing between two favorite restaurants, or choosing between writing a weblog  post or spending time with with one’s wife (speaking of which…), or some other difficult choice, but it always results in one option falling in defeat to the other.  Ultimately, for us, it is never a choice between absolutes, but it is a weighing of degrees between each of two or more options.  If God, being absolute, gets stuck in choosing between two options that are both absolutely important to him, then we have a serious problem.  He cannot reject either one, even if they are mutually exclusive.

It’s the case of the irresistible force that meets the immovable object.  One cannot be stopped, and the other cannot be moved.  If God loves absolutely, then he will do everything he can to save us from our demise, but if God has absolute justice and an absolute demand for sinlessness, then he cannot reward us with Heaven nor deny us the punishment of Hell if we are sinners.  On the one hand, he must absolutely save us, if he can, and I might add that it would seem foolish to suggest that he can’t,  and on the other hand, he absolutely must judge us as we deserve.  We put him in an impossible spot.  What happens next is the collision of absolutes.  God, the absolute judge, collided with God, the absolute savior, and he self-destructed, right there on the cross.  It was a cosmic traffic accident, the collision of the irresistible force with the immovable object, the deliberate self-destruction of God.  That is the essence of penal substitution, and it’s the reason we can have hope in salvation through Christ’s work on the cross.  Infinity was divided by infinity, giving one-hundred percent for anyone added to that expression.

Michelle looks up at me in awe, nearly cross-eyed with sleepiness, and replies with an almost drunken slur, “That is so beautiful.  I’ve never heard that before,” and then she falls back to sleep.

dustysig

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Hunting for Mister Hyde

30 04 2012

Occasionally, an event from my past comes back to haunt me.  I find myself wondering what the heck I was thinking when I chose to do what I did.  Perhaps, I’m too hard on myself.  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, in Technicolor, high-definition with surround-sound.  If the same event comes to mind every day for more than a couple of weeks, then I suppose it merits a little mention.

It was a night in a small parking lot next to the church’s annex building, following a scouting event.  The games we played under the floodlight on the lawn and that adjacent lot made for some of the nicest memories.  I was just a kid.  On the far side of that lot was a church bus, parked as close to a chain-link fence as it could be, and on the other side of that fence was a very tall hedge.  Between the bus and the fence was a popular hiding place for games of hide-and-seek or tag, or whatever else we invented.  Justin and I had arrived there to find some other kid already hiding there, but not for the purposes of any game.  He was weeping like his best friend had just died.

We asked him why he was crying and his reply was, “I hate my father!  I hate my !@#$ father!”  What followed was mostly expletives in regard to his dad, which, though emotive, did not really explain anything.

Now, I knew his father.  He was a very kind, gentle soul who worked with us boys in the scouting meetings, which had just finished.  There’s one man who never raised his voice for any reason, and I never saw him get angry, even when I really (brat that I sometimes was) gave him reason to be angry.  My first reaction was to tell the boy that he shouldn’t talk like that about his own dad.  Seriously, the man seemed a whole heck of a lot nicer than my own father.  I figured, the kid had just been punished for doing something wrong and was getting a little hot under the collar about it.

“You don’t know my father!” the kid raved.  “You don’t know what he’s like!  He’s evil!  I hate him!”

Rather than give ear to the rants of a child against his dad, I decided to walk away and let the kid have some time to cool off by himself.  The last thing I saw was my other friend, Justin, still talking to the kid.  The ultimate outcome to this situation, I strongly suspect, was the result of his taking the time to listen.  It certainly wasn’t because of anything I did.  Knowing now why that kid was crying, I wish I had been the one to listen.  At least someone did.

We will return to that in a moment.  Years later, but only a few days ago, I found myself among friends and the children of those friends.  Among them was a fellow that I consider entirely unique and gifted beyond measure in the way of being able to work with large groups of kids and, not only be able to keep them from wandering away, burning down the house or maiming each other, he actually keeps them entertained.  On top of all of that, he finds a way to teach them a thing or two in the process.  Scott is a highly affable, sanguine and altogether likable man.  Now, being a friend, I could pick up a few hints, here and there, about how this unflappable character, in public, could lose his temper and resort to yelling and meanness in the privacy of his own home.  I’ve never seen it.  The man has perfect self-control when he’s among friends.  I could probably insult him to his face, and he likely would not break from his good nature.

Then, when we were sitting around a table, and I said to his youngest daughter, “Your dad is such a nice guy.  Is he always this much fun at home?  Is he always this happy and easy-going?”

The daughter looked down at the table and to the right.  They say that when a person glances away and to the right that they’re looking for a way to lie or tell a story, and when they look away and to the left that they’re trying to remember something.  I’m not sure I believe this, but, so far, I have only found it to be true.  There was a tense moment and a delayed response, and everyone at the table seemed to be waiting for the answer.  Then, she gave this drawn-out and guilty response, “Yes.”  It was, of course, the only response a kid would give, with the dad sitting right there at the table.  She might have well said , “No,” as unconvincing as she was.

I figured this was probably a good time to do some damage control.  I had my answer, and, at the moment, I still seemed to have my friendship with Scott.  It was time to save the poor kid, so I told about life with my own father when I was growing up.

My own father had a fuse so short that he often flew into a fit of rage for no apparent reason at all.  I still find myself reliving those moments, replaying the events in my head, as I try vainly to discover what, if anything, my dad was so angry about.  I’ve seen him throw things and get into a snit over a single spoken word of no ill meaning.  What was his problem?  I still don’t know.  I thought it might be a byproduct of his diabetes.  I figured, whatever it was, his emotional constitution was such that he had no real control over his violent reactions.  So, as his son, I found myself making excuses for his behavior, that he was permitted to act this way because he was an adult, or because he just couldn’t help himself.  He, likewise, made excuses for himself, like, “I didn’t mean to throw the glass at your mother.  The air caught it and made it curve toward her,” as they’re picking small shards from her face.  Then, there was the time when he slammed his fist through the wall.  They patched that one up quick, thinking no one would notice.  My mom got embarrassed and red in the face when I asked her why a spot in the wall was smoother than the rest.  Actually, it was a good cover-up.  I only found it because I knew what I was looking for (other than trouble).  Over-all, though, my father was a great guy, if history could be rewritten to remove his outbursts.

There was one evening, though, when I began to think that his emotions were not really his master.  He was at the business of a client, working on a renovation project, when that client was clearly driving my father well past the breaking point.  The client seemed to think he knew more about my father’s work than my father did.  I could feel the anger building up inside of my dad, and I thought for sure he’d let loose on the guy, any second.  At home, he went into a rage over far less.  The man bossed my dad around and even fired him, and my dad took it all quite graciously and left fully in control of his wits.  Apparently, complete strangers are afforded more grace and mercy than loved ones and family, especially when money is involved.

In another incident, with a number of friends and our family seated at a table in a Mexican  restaurant, a woman told my father, “Vic, you are the gentlest, mildest man I know.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen you lose your temper.”  I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything at the time, because I would have sprayed it all over everyone.  My father didn’t correct her error.  I couldn’t believe anyone would say that about the man.  He was, positively, the most temperamental person I knew.  It was then that I fully realized the extent to which he managed to hide the darker part of his nature from the rest of the world.  No one outside of our household saw him the way that we did.

Two weeks was the magic number.  Actually, to be precise, it was thirteen days.  That was the length of time a person had to live under his roof to see him lose his temper.  My brother went to college and came back for the summer.  On his return, he was treated gently, like any other outsider.  Thirteen days later, the firework stand opened up, so to speak.  He returned home after his wife left him, and my father treated him sympathetically for about thirteen days.  Then, I wondered if my brother was better off taking abuse from his estranged wife.  Now that I’m my own man, I never see him lose his temper.  I’m tempted to think that he finally reformed himself, but, then, I haven’t stayed under his roof for that long in a very long time.  After thirteen days, I might see Doctor Jekyll turn to Mister Hyde.

A person’s family gets a strange and unwanted insight into his true nature.  It’s the paradox that the ones who love us most get treated with the least patience and forbearance, the least gentleness and the least politeness.  For me, it was a little of the reverse.  I’m a little sociopathic that way.  I had to learn to treat friends and acquaintances with some of the kindness that I always showed my own family.  I strive to be Doctor Jekyll and Mister Jekyll, and, with friends and others, I always find myself hunting for Mister Hyde.  It’s not that I’m trying to bring out the bad in them or to condemn them, it’s just that, as a friend, especially as a close friend, I feel the responsibility to hold people accountable.  In American culture, especially more now, with the rise of technology, people expect a greater deal of distance between them.  No one ever digs too deeply into the personal affairs of others, even friends, even close friends.  What hides in the darkness never comes to light.  Evil remains safe within the walls of a home.  A father is the dungeon keeper of his home, and his wife and kids are the inmates.  People don’t dig.  Mister Hyde is never found.

In our time, “privacy” is our banner, but what we really champion is secrecy.  Privacy does nothing to hide the facts of the matter.  For example, no one doubts (I hope) what happens between my wife and I in the privacy of our bedroom.  It goes without saying.  It’s not a secret.  However, that doesn’t mean people can enter our home at will.  No one is invited to watch (good grief, now that would be awkward, wouldn’t it?).  Secrecy is the sort of intercourse that happens between people when it really ought not to.  It’s what we don’t want people to know about, and usually for good reason.

That kid hiding behind the bus was a victim of secrecy.  His father was in the regular habit of raping him and his brother.  Mister Hyde was hunted down and thrown into prison, where one can only wonder with horror what befell him.  I did not discover the crime, because I did not look.  Someone else found him out.  Since then, I’ve learned to hunt for Hyde.  Therefore, it is without shame that I look for clues to the inner workings of families that I care about.  I’m not going to leave that kid crying behind the bus again.

It is better to uncover those dark secrets while there is still time to act.  People can take their secrets to the grave, but they cannot keep them there.  In the end, all secrets will be made known, and every dark deed, every thing done in private, will be made known to all the world on the Last Day.  God promises (or threatens) it.  It will happen.





To Them Who Did Not Turn the Other Cheek (everyone)

1 07 2011

Jesus was a peculiar individual, to say the least.  We thought that merely abstaining from sex with another man’s wife was sufficient for a sinless life, but he told us that we could not even give her a hidden, much enjoyed, sideways glance.  We could understand that much if we really strained ourselves.  Not leering at a woman was something of an extreme measure along the lines of avoiding sex with her.  Yes, but, when he said that we would be better off plucking out our eyes than let them cause us to sin, well, we thought that was just hyperbole.  What part of your body causes you to sin?  Get your knife.  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  A Christian is one who follows the teachings of Christ…but not that close.

When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, an act that will lose its sting much like the sinking of the Lusitania, Christians from both sides of the aisle took opposing views on how to respond.  On the left, we had people saying that we should practice the teachings of Christ and turn the other cheek, meaning that we should be passive and do nothing.  Those on the right said that Christ’s teachings in this were meant on a personal level, not a national one, and that if we did nothing, then we were just inviting more attacks.  Neither side really applied Christ’s message to the situation.  More importantly, though, the leftist response underscores a serious problem in modern Christian understanding of this passage, and the conservative response and their failure to hit this misunderstanding head-on seems to indicate that they don’t generally understand it much, either.

According to Christ, when someone hits your cheek, you ought to offer him the other cheek to hit, also.  When someone steals your coat, you give him the shirt off your back (ladies, don’t do this, exactly).  Turning the other cheek is not passive.  He didn’t say to hug your knees and cry.  What he said is, essentially, that you should invite the other person to do it again.  Now, we’ll work with the understanding that Ezekiel told us that we are responsible, at least to some extent, for the sins of our neighbors.  We can say it would, in this case, refer to fellow members of the family of God, but there is, at least, the expectation that we should warn another person of their sin, if we see it.  Christ’s view of sin is simply that we should do everything in our power to prevent even the tiniest, most subtly discernible sin.  By inviting a second strike, or a second theft, the initial impression is that we’re encouraging a second act of sin from the other person.  This is not the case.  The fact is, simply, that a man cannot steal what has been freely given to him.  If you invite the other person to slap you hard in the face, then you have not been wronged, really, when the other person takes you up on your offer.  Fundamentally, when you make the offer that the other person offend you again, you actually absolve them of that sin.  It’s the evasion of sin taken to an extreme.  Not only do we need to do everything in our power to avoid committing sin ourselves, but we ought to do what we can for others, also.

I have only seen this sort of thing happen once.  My parents caught an illegal immigrant in their storage room, stealing clothing.  What was their response?  They helped her steal more.  I’m sure she was baffled.  The moment she realized that she was welcomed to take it, her conscience was cleared.  The guilt was gone and over with.  If they had pretended not to notice, then she would have walked away a thief.  She would have thought herself a thief, and, for all practical purposes, she would have been right.  She could not take up an offer that was never made.  It’s not a gift until someone actually gives it.  Until then, it’s just another theft.  Turning the other cheek can not ever be a passive act.  It never will be.

In the matter of a literal strike to the face, or anywhere else, the Christian will likely either find himself fighting back, or, simply, keeling over in tears.  The offender will then walk away satisfied, or continue offending.  Either response by the Christian is an unchristian response, unfortunately.  To take Christ’s teaching to heart means that when I finish crying my eyes out, I’ve actually got to find that jerk and ask him if he would like to hit me some more.  He needs to know that he took nothing from me that I didn’t willingly give.

Ouch.  You’re welcome.

It reminds one of a time when Jesus told his followers that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have everlasting life.  Oh, it’s such a cliché, now, but then it sounded like pure craziness.  Naturally, people turned away in droves, shaking their heads and mumbling about the crazy rabbi.  It sounded crazy for a person to cut off his own hand to prevent sin.  It sounded like unproductive madness to give someone permission to strike back.

Hit me, please.  No, really, if it makes you feel better, then do it again.

Passivity is much easier, but it doesn’t really accomplish the purpose of preventing sin, aggressively and fanatically.  Doing nothing about it not only is unpleasant, but it doesn’t really even earn you any points in Heaven.  You get to suffer, and it doesn’t even count for anything.  Now when it comes to the matter of one who goes about killing others, the underlying principle is still the same: prevent sin fanatically.  Stop that killer from killing again.  The other man’s cheek is not yours to offer.  Stop that sin.  Make the beating stop.

Nothing in the Christian doctrine is so well-versed, frequently said, and, amazingly, so rarely followed.  We could even go so far as to say that if you won’t turn the other cheek, and if that aversion causes you to sin, then perhaps we should get out the knife and eliminate that part of the body.  Indeed, Christ promised his followers quite a bit of suffering.

No, we don’t mean it, really.  When we fail, repeatedly, to turn the other cheek, we aren’t really going to cut our cheeks off.  When we get hit, we aren’t going to find the person on the following day and offer our faces as punching bags for a second round, in order to make a point that the first round was also our gift to him.  No, what we’re going to do is hug our knees and cry like a baby…or, we could seek him out and beat him to a pulp, which feels much better and actually does something toward preventing recurrence.  We’re going to hold our neighbor to his sins and hope he burns forever for it.  Then, at the end of it all, we’re going to hope to God that he doesn’t do the same to us, because he’s already said that he will forgive us as we forgive others.

When it comes to the teachings of Christ, we generally accept as much as we can, rationalize the rest, and then fail even to perform what little we can accept of it.  We can only hope that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, because if he wasn’t then we jest when we call ourselves Christians.  This hope isn’t going to get us very far, considering that he demonstrated his meaning by giving up his life to people who wanted to kill him.  Even his earliest followers did the same.

This Christianity stuff is really intense if you’re serious about it.  This is no joke.  I’m not laughing.  I’m wringing my hands and hoping I read it wrong.





Lawless One; a permanent nightmare

18 10 2010

[fiction]

Our star, Larry Lawson, had a rousing morning slapping his girlfriend to her senses.  She was still moaning over that fetus he pushed her to abort.  Zooming down the parkway, he considered that he might stop by the bar after work and see if he could pick up a new hottie, maybe a Latino chic.  That would suit him nicely.  Who knows, he might get lucky, today.  A light turned red, and he breezed through it unscathed, only to be stopped dead by a stale red with heavy cross-traffic a hundred yards later.  A black kid with an iPod stuck in his ears strutted in front of him, earning a honk and a few nasty words.  Larry thought to teach him a lesson for prolonging his red light with a crosswalk signal.  The kid would probably think of this day whenever he considered white people, in general.  He probably hated white men, already.  Larry had the vague recollection of having honked at this kid before.  Across the intersection stood a billboard photo of some guy in a white cowboy hat holding a telephone, with the words, “In trouble with the law?  Call Jesse!”  He chuckled to himself and made a mental note of the number.  The traffic going straight got a green, but Larry couldn’t waste time for the red left arrow, so he pulled an illegal U-turn and slid into the underground parking lot of his glass-walled high-rise office building.  He did a quick glance into the rearview mirror for cops and mumbled, “Sorry Jesse, maybe next time.”

Out of the car, he hopped into the elevator and waited for it to take him to the top floor, where a coffeepot and a corner desk had his name on them.  Some sappy song played over the speaker while he waited; it may have been called Shooting Stars.

“Like shooting stars we shine and then fade,
Breaking the promises we made, what about the promises?
What about the promises we made?  What about our plans for forever?”

Without thinking about it, he hummed along and counted the floors on the display above the door.  He couldn’t get out fast enough.  He put on his best attitude, taking the long way to the coffee maker, past the desk of that hot new intern.  He tried not to huff when she wasn’t there.  At his desk, he barely had the computer fired up when the guy in the cubicle next to him rolled around the cubicle partition and asked him, “Yo, Larry, you forgot to get a chain of custody receipt for yesterday’s Picasso delivery.”

Larry gave an over-the-shoulder smirk at him and said, “I didn’t forget.”

“Then where is it?” the pest insisted.

“I’ll get it to you.  I’ll get it to you.  Just wait a minute.  I just got here,” Larry snapped,  “Don’t rush me.” As soon as the neighbor wheeled back out of sight, he brought up a blank form on the computer and hit the “print” button.  Strolling as casually as possible to the printer, he snatched the document and slipped into a nearby vacant cubicle.  A few forged signatures and falsified dates written in, and he was on his way back to his desk via the aisle next to the file cabinets.  He learned long ago not to make the falsifications at his desk.  The new guy was too sharp; he’d see Larry strolling back from the printer with a fresh document and pause in his own cubicle for a moment, only to appear with the requested document, which was only too obvious.  Justifying the action was easy.  The delivery had been made, and that’s what really mattered.  This was just a lot of red tape, and besides it was a mistake, after all.  Granted, everyone would like to do things right the first time, but that’s no reason to take heat for a stupid piece of paper, or so Larry figured.  So long as the customer never complained of non-delivery, the document was never scrutinized.

All this was so much fuss over dry paint.  Larry figured Picasso to have created almost nineteen hundred paintings in his lifetime.  Of those, he had personally sold over twenty-five hundred, courtesy of a man on Thirteenth Street, named Joe Guiles.  Old Joe was one of those artists who sold art by the pound.  Larry loved his abstract works.  The need to follow reality set rules that made realistic artwork difficult to forge.  Bad art was bad, whether it looked like the original or not.  Abstract art was the sort of thing that could never be bad art, because it never actually had to look like something real.  It was essentially lawless.  The consumer eye couldn’t tell a Guiles from a Picasso, but it could certainly tell it from a Rembrandt.  No Picasso fan could look at one of his works and identify it as a forgery by its poor quality.  That’s because it was all bad.  Without having the real thing to hold up next to it, no one could notice the difference.  With the advance of the Giclee printer, a downloaded work could be printed on canvass to look like a genuine double of the original.  Granted, there were certain risks.  He had to be careful not to sell any of the showcased works, or anything too famous.  The best bet was always something that Picasso never attempted, yet should have.  These were the “lesser-known works.”  That’s where Joe’s talent really shined.

Well, it wasn’t too hard to rationalize, really.  A painting was as good as the owner’s enjoyment of it.  It didn’t really matter who made it or how it was made, so long as it had the certain visual appeal that the consumer was looking for.  I mean, it’s either worth hanging on a wall, or it isn’t.  In the end, it’s just an image.  If the consumer wanted that image, then that’s what the consumer got.  In return, Larry only asked for mass-produced artwork of dead presidents on rag paper.  That should be fair enough.

The phone on his desk rang.  It was Joe.  He answered it, “Larry Lawson, superstar.”

Joe replied that one of his works was ready, and then he disconnected.

Larry stood, passed the bad document over the shoulder of his coworker and disappeared around a corner.  He had been in the office less than twenty minutes, and already he was headed for the elevator and freedom.  Stopping by the receptionist’s desk, he asked the lady to tell his boss that he was on his way to do a pick-up.  She replied that the boss was not coming in today.  This had “good day” written all over it.  He counted the steps to the elevator, waited for the doors to shut, and then he did his best rendition of a football goal line victory dance.  That stop at the bar would be coming earlier than he had planned.  The elevator car dropped a level and opened to a pretty little clerk that he had gotten to know a month earlier.  As soon as she saw him, she made an awkward nod of the head, mumbled, “Sorry, mistake,” and hurried away.  He made a mental note to study that case.  Clearly, something went wrong with that one.  Maybe he had pursued her a little to aggressively.

The doors closed and the elevator car continued on its way.  “Shooting Stars,” played softly over the speaker.  “Come on, people, we just played that one,” he muttered.  Two lines later, he realized that the words were different.  This one wasn’t about shooting stars, like the kind one might watch on a hot August night.  This one was about shooting stars, as in celebrities and with a gun.  He shifted uncomfortably.  “Odd, that one,” he said to the wall.  His cell phone rang.  It was the jerk from the cubicle next to his.

“Larry,” whined the jerk, “This receipt is a complete forgery!  What the heck are you doing, trying to pawn this junk off on me?”

“Just file it,” Larry answered, “you know no one’s going to look at it, anyway.”

“Larry, I looked at it!  Now we’re both involved.  This isn’t just your butt that’s going to get fried.  I never asked for this.  It’s illegal, you know!” the twiggy coworker cried.

“Laws were made to be broken,” Larry returned, “Get a grip.  You’re not going to get arrested for possession of a fake receipt.”  He snapped his phone shut and continued waiting.  This was taking too long.  He looked at the display above the door, and it showed that he was ascending, instead of descending.  “Drat!” he shouted.  Actually, that wasn’t quite the word he used.  The numbers kept going up.  Then, he was back to his own level, which was on the highest floor.  Then he was on the floor above it.  The numbers rearranged themselves into a little face, just a line for a mouth and two dots for eyes.  “What the…?!”

“So, you don’t like laws, do you?” the little face said, and he heard it through the speakers in place of the music.  The face screwed itself up into various Chinese characters.  Then the display went blank and the doors opened, revealing the roof and all of the workings one might find on top of a high-rise office building.

“This is nuts,” he said with a shiver, “Elevators don’t go clear to the roof.  This can’t be happening.”  But the unnaturally dark and smoky sky drew him outside and toward the parapet.  Looking down, he saw that the whole city was on fire, making him think for a split second that it had caused his elevator to rise to the top, but that would still be impossible.  The elevator still doesn’t reach the roof, even if it malfunctions.  A huge billow of smoke rose in the distance, forming what vaguely looked like an angry face, which turned and dissipated a second later.  A moment after that, the roiling smoke formed another face, which rotated and obliterated.  It was only the sort of thing one sees in clouds, when one looks up and makes believe that the thing is shaped like something familiar, even when it clearly looks dissimilar.  Yet, face after face arose and disappeared.  “What is going on, here?” he wondered aloud.

“At the moment, you’re hallucinating, but that could all change in a few minutes,” said a voice behind him.

He turned toward the speaker and saw a man in a leather jacket, leather pants and leather boots.  In fact, it would appear that every thing he wore required the shedding of blood.  “What’s going on?  What’s happening,” Larry asked.

“This day has been waiting for you for thousands of years, and you have only just now stepped into it,” replied the stranger, “But I wanted to give you a moment longer before you met your destiny.  The world burns like incense to appease the nostrils of a holy God, but one can burn swine meat forever without ever producing a pleasing aroma.  Really,  I don’t think we need more of that.  I like to think that there’s a chance to reconcile you with the law you hate.”

Larry tried to give him a look that said, “You’ve got to be kidding,” that looked more like a terrified, “Man, I sure hope this is just a joke.”  He looked back at the rising smoke, which seemed to look back at him.  “So what are you saying?”

“You need Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for your breaking of the law,” the man in leather said.

“Yeah, whatever.  Jesus overthrew the law,” Larry replied.

“No, you overthrew the law.  Jesus fulfilled it.  He loved the law enough to die, rather than break it.  He loved you enough to die, rather than break you.  Something had to break.  It was you against the law, and….”

“That’s nice,” Larry interrupted, “but I’ve got an elevator to catch,” and he headed back to the entrance.

“Are you really in such a hurry to go down there?” asked the stranger.

Larry stepped inside the elevator, turned, and gave the button for the parking garage a resolute push.  There’s something about insanity that makes people compensate by attempting to be extra sane.  They stand a little taller.  They walk stiffly and talk about anything normal, if they can.  They find themselves looking for any symbol of normalcy to which they can cling, even striding with ineffective slowness from an onrush of doom.  For Larry, this meant resetting himself to the last moment before things went haywire, which meant standing in an elevator and pushing the button for the parking garage with the determination of one who actually expected it to go there.  When the doors closed and his stomach rose into his throat from the descent of the car, he hoped life was as normal as it now looked, but four seconds later, when he became weightless and floated about the interior, he realized with horror that he was better-off on the roof, with the freak, where at least he was free and not trapped in a box.  The display above the door showed the little face again, and he heard its voice through the speakers.

“You know, Larry, I know you think of yourself as a minor outlaw, but I happen to know that you love laws,” said the voice in a synthetic sort of way.  Larry was too busy floating about the cabin to venture a response, so it continued, “Take the law of gravity, for instance.  You love that law.  You like being able to use those little stilts you call legs to pry yourself away from the ground and move from place to place across the surface of a dirt ball.  You love knowing that every day, God happens to follow that law faithfully.  Or, take the laws of time and space, even.  You like, or better yet, are tremendously excited to know that your elevator will get to where it’s going in a timely manner.  You like to be able to cross a room in a matter of seconds, rather than decades.  In fact, it would kill you to know that you might not even get there in your lifetime.”

“Oh, dear God,” Larry mumbled, not reverently.

“Yes, both dear and God, in fact,” said the voice.  “Aren’t you glad God obeys his laws?  Don’t you wish you had obeyed yours?  Oh, but then there’s the Master Law, and this one you love the best.  It’s the law that makes all other laws possible.  It’s the law of consistency.  It’s so universal and so important that most people don’t even know it exists.  You wake up every morning, go to work, come home and go to bed.”

“I do not love that law,” Larry groaned.

“Oh, but you do,” argued the voice.  “You don’t like not knowing if, perhaps, you might wake up one day and find that you are a chicken, strapped to the back of a flying purple pig, singing We Are The World a hundred times really fast.  For instance, you don’t like floating about, trapped inside an elevator that talks nonsense to you.”

Larry resisted the urge to puke, and said, cautiously, “You’re right.  I definitely do not like this.”

“Ah, but fortunately for you God is very good at following his laws,” the thing said.

“Then why isn’t he?!” Larry roared.

“Ah, but he is!” the elevator cheered, “You may think that you are floating, but it only seems like that because your entire world is falling with you.  Your coworkers are falling with you.  Your elevator car is falling with you…and it still only takes four and a half seconds to hit the ground!  Even the laws of time and space are obeyed.  Did you know, Larry, that the terrified mind of a human fires signals so fast that he perceives that time comes to a standstill?”

“That’s great!  That’s just fantastic, you stupid, little, whatever you are!  What about consistency?  What about your freaking Master Law?!” Larry screamed.

“It’s about to be taken from you,” said the elevator, flatly.  “The Master is about to be taken from you, and there’s really no way to have the Master Law without the Master, now is there?  I mean, that wouldn’t make any sense, now would it?

“You mean, I’m going to be stuck in this nightmare?!” Larry panicked.

The elevator was silent for a moment.  Then it replied, “Yes, but this is all taking too long.  We are nearly out of time.”

All at once, the elevator groaned softly, and Larry was flung at the floor, where he stopped, mid-air, spread-eagle, with his nose an inch from the ground, hovering.  He brought his arms and legs down, and he carefully stood to his feet.  The moment the doors opened, he rushed outside, into the parking garage, and for a moment life seemed to have returned to normal.  A short distance away was a small one-person restroom, used mostly by the security guards and the incontinent.  Into this he rushed, either to vomit or to splash water on his face, whichever he could manage best.  It was one of those cold, ugly places, with a steel mirror and a steel toilet and a push-button washbasin.  He got one splash of water to his face before he began to doubt his own reflection.  It didn’t look right.  He worried that the nightmare might be returning.  It was his face, alright, and it even imitated his movements, but somehow it felt like the image of someone else.  The man in the mirror looked like the sort of jackass a person loves to hate, bearing a sneer best removed with a tightly-clenched fist.  Then, he could contain himself no longer.  He fell to his knees before the toilet and spilled his breakfast, which appeared to be a diet of worms.  In between retches he could still feel them wriggling in his throat, which made him retch all the more.  Gripping the bowl with both hands, he felt himself surrender to the panic.  There was no end to the worms within.  That’s when he noticed his hands.  They were covered in worms, too.  In fact, they were so covered that he could not see his hands.  He swiped at them vigorously, knocking them in large clumps into the toilet, taking off whole fingers and then an arm, into the bowl.  That’s when he realized that the worms were not on his arms.  The worms were his arms.  He pushed himself to his feet and examined his body, a seething mass of worms in the general shape of a man.  His right arm flopped detached over the edge of the bowl, spreading in an array of nematodes, until it no longer resembled an arm.

Larry had one thread of sanity left, and with it he barged out of the restroom, up the ramp and out onto the street.  He was going to wake up or die trying.  The street outside was packed with pedestrians, marching routinely to work.  He pushed through them rudely, not knowing where he was going, or why.  He overheard their conversations with each other, normal and unrelated to him, but his mind picked out one word from one person and one word from another, fitting it nicely together into a sentence that was never spoken by a single individual.

“Hurry…call…on…Christ!…now,” said no one and everyone.

Larry stopped at the street corner and looked each way.  It was an alley, crossing with the main boulevard.  The alley had nothing but two old trash cans, a cat, and a homeless bum, who was striding purposefully toward him.  Everyone else was walking or driving along the boulevard.  In the moment that he recognized the bum as the man from the roof, he looked up at the street sign and saw that he was at the crossing of Hell Avenue and Heaven Alley.  “Oh, very funny!  Oh, yeah, this is all just one big hilarious joke, isn’t it?!” he yelled at the stranger.  The people on the street stopped in their tracks and stared.  Even the cars slowed to watch the madman.  Everyone was waiting to see what he would do next.  He was about to say something more, when he heard the whistle of a train.  It was the Seven-Ten, and for once it was right on time.  He knew what he had to do.  He turned up the boulevard and ran madly for the tracks.  The stranger broke into a dead run after him, trying to stop him.  Up ahead, he saw the tracks.  To his left, he saw the coming of the Los Angeles Westbound.  Larry was determined to meet the LAW head-on.  Someone or something was going to break.  With his legs spread, he stood and faced the oncoming diesel engine.  To his left, the stranger kept coming, with a look of horror on his face and his hand upraised in warning.

“Larry!” yelled the man in leather, “You can’t wake up from this kind of nightmare!”  But Larry turned toward the engine and ignored him.  The stranger slowed to a stop when the futility of his effort became evident.  The words barely squeaked from his throat, “Not again.  Oh, for pity’s sake, not again.”

The impact was so thunderous that everybody thought a bomb had gone off.  The doors and large pieces of the elevator car blew out into the cars parked opposite, rebounding with a clatter, a tremendous racket and a billow of dust.  A dozen car alarms sounded, honking in protest like frightened donkeys.  The entire office building came alive with workers buzzing about, trying desperately to know what was going on.

The event was summed up in a news article the next day, that the elevator in a downtown office building had become detached from its pulley mechanism and fallen all the way from the top floor to its resounding demise far below, killing one person in the process.

A clerk from the top floor minus one considered that she barely missed getting on that elevator seconds before the disaster.  Strangely, she was saved by her disdain of the victim, which, incidentally, made the victim harder to disdain.  Had he not been on that elevator, she felt that the victim would have been her, instead.  Somewhere on the top floor, the victim’s coworker made a callous remark that he probably hit the ground and kept going, straight to Hell.  Both were wrong in their own way.  The reason she did not die was simply because it was not her time to die.  He did not go straight to Hell, exactly.  Somewhere along the way life took an unexpected detour, before continuing on into the permanent nightmare.

But it is not for others to know the full story of a man.  His interaction with God is known only to him and God.  He can’t tell, and God won’t.

[/fiction]

Some say that the genre of Christian horror is a self-contradictory and impossible concept.  In truth, those who see the world falling headlong into a permanent nightmare are audience of the ultimate horror story.





Sodomy Versus Intelligent Design

26 07 2010

There’s a proper tool for everything, and there’s a proper use for every tool.

In the field of microbiology we use a special membrane filter made from nitrocellulose, a highly flammable paper made from ordinary paper, sulfuric acid, nitric acid and heat.  This produces a few minutes of expensive entertainment, as it bursts into an impressive fireball over a Bunsen burner.  Unfortunately, this piece of flash paper is not produced for the thrill of pyromaniacs, but for the dull purpose of capturing and growing bacteria.  Once it gets wet, it isn’t nearly as fun to burn.

The slim smooth paper filter is very carefully made at the factory to ensure that its pores are just small enough to capture the bacteria, while letting liquids and growth media through.  Now, one might imagine it to be something like sifting marbles out of sand with wire mesh, but this is entirely inaccurate.  On a microscopic level, it more closely resembles a sponge.  The bacteria get trapped inside of it, among the labyrinth of fibers.  The filter can then be placed upon agar, and the growth medium can seep up into this sponge-like matrix and surround the microorganisms, keeping them wet and well-fed.  Had they been trapped on the upper surface, like fish in a net, the medium would never reach them, and they would die of dessication.  Life on top of the filter would be like life on the moon.

Getting the nitrocellulose filter to the right porosity requires a method that borders on insane ingenuity.  One liquid is first dissolved in another, and then the paper fibers are added.  Next, the liquid solution is very carefully dried in a tightly controlled environment.  One liquid evaporates faster than the other, which means that their relative concentrations gradually change.  Eventually, one liquid will become too concentrated to remain dissolved within the other, and it will fall out of solution, forming microscopic droplets suspended homogeneously.  The paper fibers, which are also floating in the mix, are pushed out of the way of these suspended droplets, as the droplets continue to grow.  When the droplets reach the desired size, both liquids are removed, and the paper fibers settle and stick together.  Between the fibers are empty spaces left by the droplets.  Hence, on a microscopic level, the paper is like a sponge, full of air bubbles.  The bacteria wander into it, where they become trapped.

Now, the nitrocellulose filter is perfect for capturing microorganisms meant to be grown on agar, but if one wants to wash them back off of the filter in order to burst them open and study their DNA, then one has a problem.  They do not easily wash off, because they are embedded snugly within it.  Therefore the polycarbonate filter was invented.  This type of filter is essentially a very thin piece of plastic with precise holes bored into it.  To do this, the manufacturers expose the plastic film to nuclear radiation for a precise length of time.  The radiation particles punch tiny holes into the surface, which are then etched to a larger size by soaking the membrane in a strong acid for an exact length of time.  On a microscopic level, it looks like a sheet of plastic that someone attacked with a hole puncher.  The bacteria are filtered out, and they stay on the surface of the filter, because they are too enormous to fit into the holes.  This makes for an easy task of washing them off of the filter to be studied by other methods.

Now, the proper use of each filter is well-established.  Each was very carefully designed for a very precise purpose.  Yet, for the sake of convenience, there are those in the field of microbiology who are, at this moment, attempting to show that the nitrocellulose filter can be used in the same way as the polycarbonate filter.  The wrong filter is easier to handle and easier to come by.  They believe that they can wash the bacteria off of the filter and out of the filter, to the extent that they could count the organisms accurately.  Somehow, I suppose they might just manage to make the data support this idea, if only by dogged determination.  By their reasoning, the key to making a nitrocellulose filter work just as well as a polycarbonate filter for this purpose is to, literally, beat it harder.

One might imagine someone attempting to prove that a wrench could be used to pound nails into wood just as effectively as one might use a hammer.  With enough care, practice and force, they might even produce data to show that it is possible.  Yet, no matter how possible this may be, nothing can overcome the fact that they use the wrong tool for their purposes.  A man using a hammer to hit a nail has his own purpose for the hammer, but the man who made the hammer also had a purpose for the hammer.  When these two purposes are not the same purpose, then the tool is being misused.  No matter how well a wrench serves the purpose of a hammer, it simply was not made to be one.  No science can overthrow the intention of the one who made it.  Likewise, the scientist who attempts to use the sponge-like nitrocellulose filter in place the sieve-like polycarbonate filter may be able to prove that his tool works, and it may work well enough if he beats it hard enough, but it will always be a misuse of the tool, no matter what his data means to him.

If the matter had been about using one rock over another, then there would be no such misuse.  The rock was not made by anyone for any purpose.  Its purpose is given to it by the one who picks it up and strikes a nail with it.  One rock might happen to be better than another for this purpose, but this is nothing like the difference between the hammer and the wrench, because, unlike the rocks, the tools have an intelligent design.

Now, the Darwinists, who, like the microbiologists mentioned, believe themselves to be wholly rational beings, free of bias, would say that the human body is without an intelligent design.  This means that its misuse is entirely impossible, like the misuse of a rock is impossible.  The circumstance of misuse only arises from the difference in the user’s purpose from the creator’s purpose.  If there is no creator, then there is no created purpose.  To this, we apply the subject of the human orifice.  Logically, the body should be full of various holes and invaginations, so that the lucky few that do happen to promote the furtherance of the species may continue, while the others, at least, do no harm.  In that case, the rectum might be equally suited for sex, if so wished, as it is for defecation.  If it has no created purpose, then it cannot possibly be misused.

However, of all of the various pores and openings within the human body, every single one of them serves a purpose.  Not one has been found without a purpose.  While the Darwinist would say that a hundred arrows were shot blindly through the air, and a few managed to hit the target, what we see is the aim of a marksman, with every arrow hitting the mark.  There are no unclaimed orifices waiting to be designated a role by the perverse human whim.  The saber-tooth tiger didn’t target cavemen who happened to have an extra navel.  The pioneers didn’t have more trouble escaping the appetites of grizzly bears if they, the people, happened to have an extra deep dimple in the middle of the abdomen.  Natural selection couldn’t care if you look like Swiss cheese, so long as you can still run, fight and reproduce.

One opening in particular, the anus and its associated rectum, serve a very delicate, if dirty, purpose.  When the rectum is stretched by the presence of fecal matter, it signals the need to eliminate waste.  The descending colon prepares for discharge, and the action may even take place involuntarily if the offending irritant is not reversed by sheer will.  Now, some would have us believe that the use of this organ is as flexible and open to interpretation as the use of a rock, having no deliberate design.  Consequently, the rectum can become injured and permanently stretched, resulting in a lifetime of incontinence.  The signal to defecate is permanently activated by the ruined device.

Had we not believed in the intelligent design of living organisms, we could not say that any organ was necessarily meant for any particular purpose, much to the delight of those who would invent their own uses.  The rectum would eventually evolve into a womb, and we would be obligated to discharge our feces from our mouths.  This, for many, would be an improvement over current circumstances.  But while the Darwinist is mentoring future generations to spout crap from their mouths, I’d prefer to make the observation that organs are tools, just as a hammer and a wrench are tools.  They serve a purpose, which is part of their design.  One was made for one purpose, and another was made for a different purpose.  In making this rather obvious assertion, we simultaneously draw two conclusions: there was an intelligent designer (otherwise there could be no cross-purposes), and misuse of an organ is not of equal value to its proper use.

What this means is that neither homosexuality nor any other sodomy are even remotely comparable to real sex.  They deserve no comparable treatment, and they merit no legitimacy.  One way is right, and the other uses, while creative, are merely misuses.  One way fulfills the body’s intended use, while all others, while useful to the purpose of the owner, are just a misuse.

What this also means is that there is a God who intended for the body to be used in a certain way.  How he feels about the misuse is a matter of theology.  Whether or not we care about how God feels is a matter of religion.  But, whether or not there was an intended use for the thing remains a matter of physical, empirical, truth.  Some would flaunt the intentions of God, forgetting that this is the same one who designed the food chain, not the person who designed your teddy bear.

As with the matter of the filters, no convenience is too small to bias a scientist to find a way to “prove” whatever he wants to prove.  As with the hammer, you could use a hamster in its place if you simply pound it harder, but it will never be the proper use of the proper tool.

And as with the rectum, you may invent whatever uses you will for it, the thing has only one legitimate use.  Don’t expect me to applaud you and give you wedding gifts when you use it for another, even if you think it effective.





The Soapbox and the Train

16 05 2010

True story: a woman dropped her coat on the ground, just below a platform.  She climbed down to retrieve her coat, and some complete stranger jumped down and rudely shoved her, attempting to force her back onto the platform in a hurry.  Several bystanders stood there and watched.  In the next moment, he was dead, and she was critically injured, but alive.  All of this, because of a mere coat.  To save that material article, she climbed onto the subway tracks.  Then the man climbed onto the tracks to save her.  Most would say that the coat wasn’t worth it.  Some might even say that the woman wasn’t worth it.

But that was just a subway, and he tried by physical means.  It was only a matter of life and death, nothing more.  In another time and another place, a man stood on a soapbox and preached at a passing crowd.  This is also a true story.  He told the world that they were sinners and needed to repent.  He said that they needed Jesus.  He warned them that they were going to Hell.  A man with good intentions stopped to argue with him.  In fact, the man who wished to take him to task was no less than a pastor.  He asked the man on the soapbox why he was being so mean-spirited, why he didn’t just show people the love of God.  Fortunately, the man on the soapbox ignored him.

Let’s take the two true stories and merge them for the sake of analogy.  A woman drops her coat on the train tracks, and in a moment of carelessness, she places exceedingly high priority on a temporary piece of property at the expense of something far greater.  A coat is until the next paycheck, but death is forever.  A man on the platform yells and screams at her to abandon the coat and move to safety.  He warns her of impending doom.  The other people around him mostly do nothing, same as before.  One man stops and accuses him of being unloving, harsh and overly critical.  According to the detractor, all of this yelling and screaming is only bound to chase her farther onto the tracks.  “She’ll never come to safety if you keep on like that,” he says.  At some later time, we might even make the suggestion that the police come and arrest the shouter for “hate speech.”  The liberal says that a loving God would surely not let a train come and crush a person flat, simply because she followed her own tendencies.  What harm did she do anyone?  How did her actions justify the punishment?

Yet, God’s moral laws are no more flexible than his physical laws.  She stood on the tracks when the train came, and she was to be crushed by it.  We don’t fault the train.  We don’t fault God.  We place the blame squarely on the woman.  She should have known better.

There’s a popular little lie that makes its rounds among believers that we should, “preach the gospel to the world, using words, if necessary.”  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by people speaking the message (Romans 10:17).  If no one speaks it, then no one is going to hear it.  Somehow, we are expected to simply be nice people, without ever really getting to the marrow of what we believe to be not only the truth, but a dire truth, at that.  In any other dire situation, we would be expected to go out of our way to convey the danger of the matter to the potential victims as quickly and as loudly as we possibly could.  Yet, somehow, when it comes to the only thing more important than life or death, being Heaven and Hell, we are expected to simply show people the love of God, without ever broaching the subject of the other person’s future of burning in Hell for all of eternity.

Focus on Heaven, they say.  Don’t scare them with the stuff about Hell.  So our victim is bending over to pick up her coat, and the man on the platform is calling to her seductively, telling her how wonderful it would be if she could stand up there on the platform with him, instead of being down there on the dirty old tracks, like that.  Her response?  Yes, of course it would be nice to stand on the platform, instead, but she’s going to get her coat first.  Yes, it would be nice to get into Heaven, but I’ve got time, and I’m going to enjoy life first.  In the end, the woman still gets crushed, but at least the man didn’t get hurt in the process.

That’s what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it?  We try to win people to Christ in the way that is least likely to get us hurt.  The train comes.  We don’t mention it.  We act like there’s no hurry.  We behave as though there were no threat.  We even pass laws against telling people that they are going to be utterly destroyed if they don’t get out of harm’s way.  That’s hate speech.  But, love is not always polite.

Jesus was often rude.  He spent much time railing against the teachers who led people astray.  In his case, he was so determined to save a person, that, like the good fellow who tried to rescue the woman, he died trying.  As in that case, more often than not, Christ’s own attempts to save people are for naught.  In the end the train comes, and there is Hell to pay.  Even so, he still hopped down from his high place and died in the attempt.  Futile effort is better than the nightmare of having done nothing.

It doesn’t have to be futile, though.  There was always some slim chance that the person might be saved.  In fact, sometimes the hero is rewarded with another soul rescued, a life saved from imminent doom.  We are not that hero.  We are only asked to speak the warning from our place of relative safety.  Our job will not always be this easy.  For now, the bystanders only ridicule us for speaking of the train and the danger.  For now, we are only made to endure a little scorn.  The time is coming when the masses will drag us away and put us in prison, that the woman may remain on the tracks until her execution.  That is, they will do so if we continue to warn.  As it is, we mostly stand and stare, like an audience at a horror film.

And we think we are virtuous for our gentleness.





When Surrender is Not an Option

10 05 2010

It was our second anniversary, and we were headed down a certain freeway that I now avoid with a superstitious dread.  The man in the green Nissan to my right decided to change lanes very quickly and without warning, which would have been tolerable if not for the fact that I was already in that space.  There’s this annoying principle of matter that says that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time, which is why I reacted very quickly to save my car from certain destruction.  Unfortunately, there’s also a physical constant called a friction coefficient, which does not change no matter how fast a person’s reflexes are.  I avoided colliding with the reckless driver, but my car went into a fishtail, as the road beneath me seemed to turn into a well-greased slab of slightly melted ice.  It’s funny, really, how static friction is so much stronger than kinetic friction.  Once the car skids, the tires glide across the asphalt with amazing ease.  The next thing I knew, I was staring straight at the concrete divider.  I steered hard away from it, but I had to stomp on the gas to make the car move in the other direction again.  Merely turning the wheel wasn’t cutting it.  Then I was facing the other way, and I had to turn the wheel and hit the gas to get it back again.  Back and forth, and back and forth again, the car slid one way and then the next, and there seemed to be no getting it straight again.  When the blood was coursing through my veins with an adrenaline high like three pots of coffee, I felt like I was living life at two-hundred miles per hour.  Actually, that’s the speed of a nerve impulse, so I really was living at two-hundred, but I digress.  At least I was able to get the car into a predictable oscillation.  That, alone, was a small comfort.  Still, getting the tires to stop squealing and getting the car to move in a straight line again would have been nice.  I was surprised at exactly how much care was required to shrink the back and forth motion to a slight veering.  A little less gas each time and a gentler steering got it to a point where it was barely moving back and forth at all.  In fact, if the tires had not been skidding, my path of travel would have been perfectly normal.

But the tires were still skidding.  I could not simply return to normal driving, or I would end up crunched like an empty soda can against the concrete wall.  Fighting the great back and forth movements was scary, but the battle was an easy one to fight.  Once the car was basically going straight, I found myself wondering what I was going to do next.  For the longest time, I was driving straight down the road with squealing tires that had about as much grip on the road as melted butter.  I was going straight, but only if I concentrated on it.  This was the hardest part, because I began to seriously consider whether the car would ever regain traction again.  It seemed to take forever, with no progress, and I was exhausted and shaking.

What unnerves me most about the event is that an idea crossed my mind that there really was nothing left to do but let the car do its own thing and be done with it, to give up and have a collision.  But…no matter how unbearable the situation was at the time, the alternative had to be worse.  No matter how long this continued, even if I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore, there was never any point in giving up.

“What do I do now?!” I wondered again and again.  The car was going straight, for crying out loud!  Then I tried taking my foot completely off of the gas and let the road move the wheels.  Eventually, enough friction between the two got them moving at the same speed and in the same direction.  After what seemed like forever, the squealing subsided, and I was back to driving the same as normal.  I was shaking like a leaf, and the world seemed several times brighter than midday sunlight, but we were alive, and the tires were gripping the road again.

Years later, I was riding in the back seat of someone else’s car, and I heard the familiar squeal of someone else’s car coming the other way.  At first, I couldn’t tell which car it was, because they were all moving straight ahead.  A man in a large truck had gone into a fishtail and managed to get it under control, in so much as that he was going straight, but his tires were still slipping and sliding along.  In that moment, I knew what he was thinking, and he chose the option of surrender.  From a straight path of travel, he suddenly swerved right, into the car beside him, then left, into another car.  He got his truck to a stop, but he had to wreck it and a couple of others to do so.  In that moment of fatigue, when there seemed to be no hope in sight, he chose the unthinkable alternative of surrender.  After getting it mostly under control, without regaining traction, he simply gave up.

I think of this now, because recently I saw the car in front of me fishtail, and the driver ultimately spun in circles and stopped, facing backward.  In fact, whenever I see the telltale wavy skid marks in the road, I watch to see what the outcome will be.  Almost always, they end in a great big loop like a question mark.

We fight, and we fight hard, and then we fight some more.  Then we wonder if there’s any hope, or we wonder if it’s worth the trouble.  No matter how unthinkable the alternative is, people usually give in to that unthinkable alternative.  Swerving back and forth is a nightmare, but it beats the alternative.  Life is full of such cases.  At what point do we give in to sin, say it’s too much temptation to bear?  How much is too much?  It’s never too much, because as long as we are still fighting, we are better off than the alternative.  Yet, there is a threshold for everyone, a point of striving beyond which they will not venture.  It’s the test of tenacity.

How seriously do you take your faith?  Will you keep it under adverse circumstances?  Will you keep it if those circumstances appear to have no end?  Is an endless arduous battle always better than the alternative?

In the words of Churchill, I say, never give up.

We are but weaklings, dwarfed by the martyrs who came before us.  We give in to little temptations where they held fast to the point of death.  Yet, though we can only hold fast in little ways, we can do so indefinitely, because it simply beats the alternative.  No matter how strong the drive to do that which God has condemned, we can and must always resist, because the alternative is absolutely unacceptable.  No one is granted a vacation from morality.  Personal preference isn’t worth crap.  You don’t stop fighting, and you never give up.  You work that lifestyle until the right thing becomes a habit.

When put to the test, you hold to righteousness even if it kills you, because the alternative is unacceptable.  Sometimes, surrender is just not an option.  Excuses won’t break your fall like the ground will.