Lost in the Technicalities

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There are many things in life that depend on a smell test or an intuitive sense.  When the religious hypocrites brought a woman before Jesus the legal prescription was simple, she was caught in sexual sin and deserved death according to the law of Moses.  They knew of his compassion for sinners and had hoped to trap him.  If Jesus spared her he would break the law, but if he condemned then he would be just like her judgmental accusers.

What happened next in that narrative totally upended their simplistic conception of the law and application.  To them, it was all very black and white.  They were very thorough in defining the limits, of their legalism, and this adulterous woman fell well outside the bounds of any gray area.  But Jesus defied them.  We don’t know what he wrote in the dust at their feet, but we do know that Jesus, in response to their demands for an answer, told them “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and that after this they left one by one.

Growing up in a fundamentalist sect, in the shadow of purity culture teachings, it was always about meeting expectations.  If only you could follow the rules, then you might be accepted, then her dad (or your own) would be pleased and no longer harbor those often unspoken negative opinions.  Sure, maybe those in this culture knew better than to be as open about their disapproval, like the men accusing the woman, but they still miss the point and will attempt to explain away the full significance of what Jesus did.  To them, the goal is to be undefiled enough to cast the first stone.

Those blinded by a legalistic mindset only comprehend the letter of the law without ever understanding the spirit or true purpose behind it.  When they are not onerously enforcing the technicalities of their own  (often errant) interpretations of Scripture then they are carving out special exceptions for themselves and in all circumstances are missing the spirit or intent of the law. (Romans 2:29, 2 Corinthians 2:4-18) They see the law as a means to gain God’s favor or as means to gain rank on their more sinful neighbors rather than what it truly is.

First of all, the law was not established for Pharisees past or present to play morality police.  Yes, we’re told to work out our own salvation.  We need to confess our sins and admit our falling short as often as we do.  But it is the role of the collective body of the Church to apply the law to others and not our own.  In other words, we should stay in our lane, and use the law for introspection rather than as a hammer to beat over the head of our neighbors.  Our obligation to others is to do as Jesus said and learn the meaning of the phrase, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

Second, the law isn’t just an arbitrary set of rules to prove our worthiness to God.  No, it is rather something established for our good and as a protection from harm.  As Jesus said, the Sabbath was “made for man” and not the other way around, which is why he let his disciples violate the rules.  In other words, the law is very practical, for our good, and can be bent when need be.  Sure, we may not always understand the reasons and thus we should obey even when we do not, but there is always room for exception.  This is what freedom in Christ entails—the ability to live by the underlying intent rather than only by the technicalities of written codes.

Those in the construction industry know about building inspectors who are ‘by the book’ to the point of being ridiculous.  It isn’t actually making anyone safer.  These types often lack hands-on experience, seemingly even basic comprehension of what makes a structure work, and they just make life harder for everyone.   They can be technically correct, according to line three of page 395 of the code book, while still being clueless and unhelpful.  This kind of expert has the letter of the law and lacks the spirit. This is to say that they have useless knowledge that makes them feel qualified when, in reality, those in the field know better.

And religious fundamentalists all end up like these building inspectors, hung up on details and never adding any real value to the project. They condemn everyone around them, in violation of the commandment of Christ, while they themselves have a beam in their own eyes. They think they are moral people because they can follow a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” and yet fail to comprehend the meaning of “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Indeed, we may not allow our children to cross the street without permission, it may also be jaywalking to cross in certain areas, and yet would the legal statute matter if there was an urgent need to cross?

Politicians and lawyers can find ways to be technically ‘legal’ while also immoral or violating the principle of the law. They can also point out when others do what is right when it is technically illegal or when others fail to dot an ‘I’ or cross a ‘T’ as is required. But they fail to apply the law correctly because they miss the actual intention or purpose behind the law. They do not know the Jesus who makes even our righteousness seem like filthy rags and are trying to earn God’s favor instead.

This is to be lost, like the rich young ruler, who was still trying to save himself through his own works. You can do everything right according to the Scripture (or at least your own understanding of the writing) and still be lost. You can do everything wrong and still be saved. This is because we always depend on the mercy of God rather than our ability to be perfect.

The Cooperative Alternative

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There is an intermediate step between our own lonely individualism and some sort of wonky religious or hippie flower child 1960s-style communalism.  There is plenty of room in between the extremes.

My thoughts about this ideal were sparked again by my interactions with a young woman, on the anxious left-wing activist side of things, thinking to declare as a philosophy major, who wanted me to check out some websites about cooperatives.

While I do not embrace the full package of left-wing ideology, I do see the huge deficit of viable communities and the economic forces that are behind this erosion.  We have traded the mom-and-pop stores downtown for the corporately owned big box.

This is as unhealthy an arrangement as the mass-produced junk food many Americans choose.  And yet, if you question this regime of suburban sprawl and consumerism, you’ll get a response similar to the dialogue, in the movie Idiocracy, when Joe suggests using water rather than Brawndo, an energy drink, for irrigating the crops:

“Community, like a cult or Jonestown?”

If you bring up the word commune there will probably be a strong visceral reaction on the part of conservatives.  There is this delusion of independence, a crucial component of the American cultural mythos, which is what drives many to trade community (and potential for their greater success) for a payment plan.

Whereas a generation or two ago, there was the church and social clubs to provide some level of mutual support, now we have a class of some who make it and others who are an unforeseen circumstance and paycheck away from dependence on welfare programs.  We have traded flesh and blood relationship for faceless state or corporate bureaucracy and a truckload of paperwork.

The current system is so woefully inefficient that we’re probably working twice as hard for half the rewards.  Governments, banks, and big corporations are profiting massively by keeping us divided up and dependent on their systems.  Many believe that they are free because they can watch smut or own a deadly weapon, but they’re really slaves to debt and tossed about by entities that have no actual concern for their well-being or wellness.

But, despite their slavery to this system, the moment you suggest that they consider an alternative, working together with those of like-mind towards a common goal, there is strong resistance.  I mean, how dare you suggest that they give up their own property (that the bank owns anyway) or learn how to share anything?

Reducing the friction of commerce…

The reality is, unless you live alone on your Alaskan homestead, you are dependent on other people.  And my thought here is that we should be more intentional about this and choose what makes the most sense.  

The idea of a cooperative is basically to remove the dead weight of a business and distribute profits more evenly amongst the employed.  It means that all involved in the enterprise share in both the risks and the rewards.  Instead of paying interest to banks or making dozens of taxed transactions, all of this cost can be eliminated.  What it all means, in the end, is working less for more in return.

For example, instead of everyone buying their own lawn mower or hiring someone, why not have one person do this for the community and earn credits?  

My own vision is a mix of both cooperation and autonomy, which is negotiated between the members and the group.  There would not be everyone living in some kind of compound or anything like that, everyone could have their own residence.  There would simply be more shared space for all, fewer redundancies, and potentially more access to costly tools or equipment.

The economics of this kind of cooperative arrangement is so superior that once it was started it would vastly outpace those trying to do it on their own through the currently conventional means.  Ever wonder why so many motels and gas stations are owned by immigrants?  It is because they are financed through their ethnic communities and have eliminated the friction of interest.

Americans, by contrast, always seem to see everything as a competition.  They’ll buy the biggest most ridiculous SUV, they truly can’t afford, to keep up with the Joneses and the only real winner is the financer of this silly display of excess.  We would rather sacrifice our time so that the boss can get his hunting land or an executive makes their bonus than give up this faux image of self-reliance and work together.

Finding our commonality…

A successful cooperative arrangement does require some sort of connection or common purpose to unite the individuals.  In the early Church, their having “all things in common” was a byproduct of faith and a commitment to Christ.  The ideological left, on the other hand, begins with a different moral premise and that is the abolition of private property or Capital.  In both cases, there is a shared identity that is the glue.

That is the biggest roadblock in the rapidly atomizing West, where Protestantism has led to a proliferation of denominations with competing claims and now the dissolution of a shared or universal purpose.  Everything is about us now, about our own opinions and wants, to the point that many marriages end in a protest called divorce.  We can’t sacrifice anything in the present, even if our greater integration as a whole would be better for us in the end.

But there is a huge potential upside.  If we could find a way to look past ourselves for a moment and understand how cooperation is a means to reduce friction or cost.  However, the real need is for more people to let go of this delusion that they are better off on their own and that security comes only through money in their bank account.  The absurd part is that we already do lend our time to many people, for a wage,  their services, or whatever, and would do better to choose better partners.

If there was a way to make cooperative arrangements more palatable I would.  The real problem is that anytime we gain the slightest advantage over our neighbors we would rather keep it all for ourselves.  Many cannot see past this pointless competition and appreciate the great gain of voluntarily distributing costs or sharing responsibilities. Perhaps this is why we can’t have nice things?  I know it is why so many are lonely and discontent. They are looking in the wrong direction for fulfillment.

There are always tradeoffs for every arrangement. And yet there are also things that we are biologically wired for and denying them is to our detriment. We are social creatures. We have a neurological reward system built around having positive meaningful interactions with other people. The economic benefits of greater cooperation, at a local level, would be enormous and the social benefits even greater.

A Rose By Any Other Name

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It is hard to feel unique in a world of 7.75 billion people.  Due to mass media we are also more aware of this and also now have all of the best in the world there to compare ourselves to.  We see the best athletes, the most beautiful bodies, those with wealth and power day in and day out.

I am insignificant

At the same time, many young people did not have siblings to share the attention of their parents, only were given affirmation in their formative years, a participation trophy for showing up and—special as they are—don’t need to follow rules or ever answer to anyone.  

In other words, we have a generation with deep insecurities, worried about their place in the vast sea of humanity, and then also raised to be self-absorbed narcissists.  

Unlike the past generations, where you could be a big fish in a small pond, yet also needed to learn respect for boundaries and how to share or negotiate with others. 

Unlike the meritocracy of the past, where you needed real accomplishments to earn privileges or praise, we have conditioned young people to believe that their satisfaction should come without sacrifice or effort.

It is very little wonder why so many of them are unfulfilled, dissatisfied with life, and out there seeking cheap distinction.

Distinction—Cheap or Valuable

We all know names like Elon Musk, Serena Williams, or Ron DeSantis.  They are leaders in their realms of popular culture and sport, business or politics.  And we can probably agree that some of their success is an inheritance of genetics, good fortune or the opportunities granted them.

However, what they are doing, like them or not, is producing results and with this are being rewarded for the things they do.  They have outcompeted many, they distinguished themselves by showing up for work and by putting the time in.  It is for that reason their recognition is earned.  They do the things we care about and we make them famous for this unique resume.

Earlier this week I saw a story about Rose Namajunas, a diminutive female UFC fighter with a very big attitude that earned her the nickname “Thug Rose” in school, and how she’s being featured in a Victoria’s Secret ad campaign.  The message “all expressions, no definitions,” with the word “undefinable,” do certainly fit her outsized personality and the mean head kicks she can deliver, all the while being very emotional.

The point a marketing strategy is cynical, it is to tickle ears and encourage more consumption of a particular good or service.  Those who produced this advertising campaign did it trying to target a certain demographic in the hope of profit.  And that target is probably not those who will ever have the same work ethic and skills as Rose, but is those who crave the same notoriety and ‘undefinable’ uniqueness.

We all wish to be significant, to distinguish ourselves from the pack, to be appreciated and loved.  There are many who are looking for a shortcut or feel entitled to these things, they want the same acceptance, recognition and rewards as those at the top.  They buy expensive clothes, the latest smart phones or cars beyond their budget, all trying to gain attention through their appearance rather than actual character.  

There is hard-earned distinction and there is the cheap kind.  There is the content creator who shares of their substance and then the one who destroys things for clicks.  There is the pleasing gift of Abel and that unworthy offering of Cain.  There is that real fulfillment which comes from making contribution and then the imitation that is outwardly prideful, expresses itself loudly, while truly being an envious, bitter and impoverished soul.

Personal Pronouns and No-name Jerseys

Penn State football has a long tradition of not putting the names of players on jerseys and this is to reinforce the notion of selfless team effort over a bunch of individuals only in it for themselves.  

No name, all game

Success on the field and in life depends on our plugging in and sometimes putting aside our own preferences for the good of others.  We can get more done by working together, respecting the established system, rather than demand that everyone makes special accomodations for us.

Yes, there is a time for grievances.  We also should be a reasonable give and take so far as how individuals and the members of the group interact with each other.

And yet this idea that we should rewrite cultural conventions, negotiated over many centuries, simply so some ‘woke’ Karens can have power over others, is not a grievance I can ever honor.  It is not reasonable for a person to decide the pronouns that apply to them or force us to go along with their newly invented categories.  

We don’t need to be Amish, severely limiting individual expression to maintain community cohesion, but we also don’t want to keep on this path of total atomization either.  There’s a reason why the barn raising religion is able to flourish while the rest of us are headed for Babal, confusion and collapse.

Rose By Any Other Name

This morning, pondering how the categories of mental illness are a bit arbitrary and how much I dislike how these labels pigeonhole  people, there was the thought that my given name was the best possible diagnosis of me.  I mean, I’m Joel.  I don’t need a personal pronoun when I already have my own name and identity completely my own.  

Ironically, the same people who want to have new pronouns for themselves also seem to revel in their mental illness as well.  Anything to be different.  It is a sort of humble-brag, a title of distinction of our era, to talk about your PTSD or bi-polar disorder.  If you are the right person, if you can make yourself a part of the right identity group, then your self-declared victimhood will be treated as a virtue.

It goes beyond moral inversion.  People think that you can slap the right label on a person and it will make up for their deficiencies.  If only they were described right, if we would see their pink hair as an accomplishment, then they would love themselves.  Of course, this is a lie, people so into themselves are always a black hole and no amount of love given will fill their deep void.

It is the spirit of those who are content to remain nameless, who get their numbers called for what they do for the whole, that actually matters.  People will know what is great and what is not no matter what label is applied.  I can never forget what W.E.B Du Bois wrote to a student:

Do not at the outset of your career make the all too common error of mistaking names for things. Names are only conventional signs for identifying things. Things are the reality that counts. If a thing is despised, either because of ignorance or because it is despicable, you will not alter matters by changing its name.

The Name “Negro”

We can manipulate and massage language all we want, give people all the fancy titles they wish for, but in the end none of this word play can take away or lend to their value. If you want recognition contribute to the whole and your name will be known. Not to the whole world, but to those helped by your deeds. A rose called by any other name is still a rose.

Believe It, Or Not?

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It’s been my thought for some time now and has become even more cemented in place over the past few years.  People will believe anything, especially if it fills their desire for meaning and purpose, even if it is ridiculous at face value.  But don’t mistake the for a shot at tradition.  Karl Marx said that religion is “the opiate of the masses” and yet his alternative drug produces delusion, rage and violence.  I’ll take Jesus and love over that any day of the week.

Sure, this quote could have some truth to it:

“Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people’s business.”

E. J. Dionne Jr

But that same statement could be applied to almost every popular secular movement or established consensus.  Certainly not all, not even many, who believe in various narratives or theories are qualified experts.  Most have simply bought into a system and are riding the ideological bandwagon.  Good science is religious and organized, scientism is a cult and a way of silencing critical thinkers who are outside of the political mainstream.  I would certainly take Gospel tracts shoved in my face over social media censorship of my ‘wrongthink’ and higher taxes that won’t do anything to save the planet.

Call me a skeptic of everything, I just find it difficult subscribing to anything anymore, to me it is all easy-believism.  I mean, does it seriously change anything about my day-to-day life to believe in climate change or go to church?  Probably not.  People might make a symbolic sacrifice here and there.  However, for the most part the commitment doesn’t ever match the rhetoric.  The faithful aren’t walking on water nor are those who loudly proclaim their extreme consternation about the climate giving up their private jets or beach homes.

But it is much more basic than this, go ask people about who is the best president ever (or worst) and you’ll get completely opposite answers.  To some Trump was the guy who spoke to their own concerns and delivered, to others Biden is the guy who has restored the normalcy they craved.  Both sides can support their own perspective if given the chance.  Can they all be right?  Okay, so it is subjective, an opinion which man is better or worse, and yet we don’t agree on what is objective either.

I love talking to the most sincere people, the true believers, because they are so confident about what they say and it is enviable.  If you have had a bad experience with those who espouse their ideology, then that’s the rare exception, an anomaly, and is not the real version that is represented by them.  I’m just not like them.  I can’t help my skepticism of their beliefs.  I’m not very easily sold on their the basis of their sureness and claims alone, show me the undeniable evidence.  I do not fall for their conviction or consensus.

People do not seem to know where reality ends and their imagination begins.  Basically every narrative we create is a sort of fiction we create for ourselves.  We take the bits of data, very often distorted by our own flawed perception, and interpret it into a story that makes sense to us.  Systemic heightism, for example, describes something very real, is even quantifiable, and yet is also an overlay that doesn’t truly describe the truly complex picture.  What we accept or deny is often a product of our conditioning, social status and base desires.

The primitive communism that Marx used to fashion his ideas were as much a fabrication as any religious mythos.  Idealistic children likely subscribe to his theories for the same reason they love Disney fairy tales or Marvel comic book heroes.  Utopia ahead is a very strong motivator, in that we are very willing to make huge personal sacrifices when we believe that heaven awaits us.  And yet, as much as see the ‘faithful’ fall for obvious con-men, it makes every testimony questionable. 

The problem with my own unbelief is that I also believe this too.  I trust myself enough to mistrust.  Maybe my own ambivalence, and sometimes agnosticism, will make me miss the one truth in the sea of lies?  Still, I’m convinced my only ability to be sure of anything will have to be direct revelation from God, because I know too well that I’m a blind man in a world of full of blindness.  I’ll admit, this isn’t the most comforting or easy answer, but people believe many things that simply are not true.

What do I believe?

I believe what is most beneficial.  Maybe all of religious narrative is a fabrication and yet the real question is it useful, will it produce results that make the world better?  

The Christ I believe teaches me the value of delayed gratification.  In other words, when we invest in others, in faith, there is a chance that we make a friend and split the dividend of our peace.  In doing unto others, in love, there is a chance of solving our conflicts and ending hostilities.  Christianity, unlike various popular political systems, makes no utopian promise in this life, and yet it does help to push behavior in the right direction.

“Whether by word of mouth or by letter…”

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The US Constitution is a prime example of how the same words can be interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes this is just a way to get around the clear meaning and other times it is simply a problem with language. There are many cases, with this founding document of a nation, that it would be nice if we could have some further explanation. Sure, you can read some of what the writers and signers said elsewhere in order to try to fill in the blanks. But, in the end, without them here, we don’t truly know how they would respond to the demands of our modern economy, technology, and needs.

This only gets murkier when dealing with Scriptures written two millennia ago. Yes, every Bible-thumper and their brother thinks they have a clear understanding while everyone else is just making things more difficult than they really should be. I mean, “The Bible Says It, I Believe It, That Settles It,” right? And yet, if I were to answer that with, “do you bury your poo outside of your property, in a hole you dug with a trowel, as instructed in Deuteronomy?” I’m guessing that suddenly what the Bible says would become a bit less settled as those using this phrase made some sort of theological exemption and that’s okay, there are things in Scripture that aren’t perfectly clear without some further explanation.

But what is more intriguing to me is what is completely left out that would be so obvious to early Christians that it wouldn’t even be worth mentioning in the letters. As the saying goes, more is caught than taught, and sometimes the most important things never do get written out. In other words, if we were writing instructions on how to drive a car, we would probably assume that the person knows how to get into the vehicle or sit facing forward. However, from the Bible, do we know how the early church structured their services or generally lived? Would they even recognize us as Christians? The reality is that there are gaps that many today just fill in with assumptions and it is usually these different extra-Biblical assumptions that lead to many divisions.

In the Protestant world “extra-Biblical” is practically a curse word. How dare you ever have a rule, custom, or tradition that goes beyond the written text! That’s false religion or something! This is why Orthodoxy is often dismissed by those seeking to strip down Christianity to the Biblical bare bones. It is a special kind of ignorance.

A good illustration? In World War II there was a study of returning aircraft and the damage that they had to determine how to better prevent future losses. The Center for Naval Analyses concluded from this that the aircraft needed more protection in these most heavily damaged areas. However, Abraham Wald, a Hungarian mathematician, begged to differ. He reasoned that the aircraft returning had survived and those that had been hit in more critical areas did not. In other words, what needed to be done was the very opposite of what the others had concluded. They needed to better armor those areas that weren’t damaged in the returning aircraft. This tendency to misinterpret evidence, based on what we have rather than what is missing, is called “survivorship bias” and can lead to woefully incorrect ideas.

This is what the Bible says about what is written versus what is not:

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

(2 Thessalonians 2 NIV)

The “letter” is what we have received in Scripture. These are the books of the Bible, canonized by the Church and believed to be truly inspired writing for this reason. But the “word of mouth” is where things are more interesting. What of the Apostle’s teaching (or tradition according to the KJV) is not written in their letters and how do we know what is missing?

The Orthodox, of course, say that this is the tradition of the Church and tie their legitimacy to the fact that there is a line of secession going all the way back to the Apostles, by the laying of hands and ordinations, and this only makes sense. The Church (note, not an individual or even the institutions) is what keeps the spoken teachings of the Apostles preserved like it did the Bible, and also serves to provide the correct understanding of Scripture. Because we should know, as Peter warned, that the Bible does not provide its own interpretation: “[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16 NIV)

However, it isn’t just the non-Orthodox that fall victim to their own bias. There are parts of the Church tradition, whether spoken or written, that slip through the cracks. We all have blind spots. We all have our distortions of concepts and errant assumptions. The difference is, that the Orthodox, if they are truly seeking to be Orthodox, are at least making some effort to incorporate the sayings of the Fathers and have a grasp of those “word of mouth” traditions not necessarily ever expressed in Scripture. In doing this, in understanding how Christianity was practiced by the faithful throughout the centuries, it becomes that much harder to distort the words of the Bible.

In the end, Christianity is about Communion, not easy textbook answers, not following an instruction manual, not standing alone, but real relationships. The more important being that between ourselves and God. However, a relationship with God implies love for our brothers and sisters. It means we are rubbing elbows with other Christians and the Saints. As Fr. Anthony put it, in his fatherly council to me, “there are no Lone Rangers” in Christianity, we can’t put the words of Jesus to practice in solitude or isolation. It’s not in removing ourselves that we are purified, it is in our getting messy and involved in the life of the Church of imperfect people (like us) that we are changed. That is taking up our cross. That is the hard part of Christianity we would rather run from.

Learning never stops in relationships. Christ Jesus did not come so we could house church with the few other perfect people who have the proper understanding of a book according to us. Instead, the very act of Incarnation was God choosing to be around those undeserving and impure, to identify with them and their suffering, which should be the impulse of those filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit, St Paul tells us, that will bring “unity” and a “bond of peace” which should span centuries or the current divisions because: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)

Do you *really* want a life without conflict?

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Thinking, as I’m sipping my coffee at Dunkin, a Saturday habit, we build civilization as part of the urge to reduce variables and the effort of living.  The thought started during my pre-waking slumber: We work, build shelters and store resources, create complex networks, to try to decrease unpredictability and the end result is that I don’t need to worry about my source of caffeine.

This orderly environment we create is ideal for raising children.  It is a nest.  Or at least at some levels.  Where we, like birds, weave a structure out of chaos in order to keep our offspring safe from predators and ourselves protected a world that can be unkind to the unprepared.  Squirrels scurry around, in the fall, gathering up things to keep for food over the hard winter months.  Our own species, likewise, is as instinctively forward thinking and creates systems to ease the strain.

The human endeavor, towards these ends of producing stability and abundance, has been so successful that many can go their entire lives not appreciating it. 

We’re so well-off, in the developed world, that our impoverished are obese rather than hungry and many now think that healthcare (a service provided by others) is a right.  we live in such unprecedented luxury and ease, even the poor can afford a lifestyle that many ancient kings would envy and yet feel so entitled to everything that we will shoot up the McDonald’s drive thru if we can’t get our bacon:

Evidently, being in civilization doesn’t make someone civilized.

Anyhow, other than entitlement and lack of appreciation, another product of civilization is boredom and fat.  In the absence of wars we created sport and without hard work, to keep from physical deterioration, we go to the gym.  It is truly bizarre, when you think about it, that we go out and seek the very anxieties that our ancestors built civilization to escape.  We are adrenaline junkies, doing intentionally dangerous things for the fix, we want to have unpredictable outcomes.

All of this really does make everything about our existence a weird paradox.  As soon we achieve a little bit of stability and peace we become restless.  That’s what convinces me that we are as much nature, made for the world we are in, as we are not.  That feeling that we somehow do not belong in this place with death and sorrow is what has motivated our progress.  It is less about our own being otherworldly and more what has enabled us to survive this universe that would kill us the moment we grew complacent.

This, incidentally, is the one thing that many people do not grasp about entropy, we tend to see decay and deterioration as being only a bad thing.  I mean, we fight it.  If someone walks into the house with muddy boots it is upsetting and spurs action.  But, without this tendency to disorder, without this repeated need to clean up on aisle five, would we even have a reason to live?  As much as we hate disorder, it is this continual struggle against it that gives us meaning and purpose.

The Beautiful Thing

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An old couple found this thing.  It was sleek and shiny, some parts transparent, but had many mysteries packed under the opaque surface at the bottom.  One of the intriguing features were the little boxes that could be pushed in or out again, giving a satisfying *click* that delighted them both.  The upper portion, with a strange metallic knife inside, could be separated from the lower and there was also a third higher portion that was very easily removed.  None of it made that much sense, but it was very beautiful and thus they decided to put this trophy on prominent display in their home.

The old couple were an avid readers, they loved the stories of ancient people, and that was one of the reasons why this old object stood out to them.  They knew it had to have been something special, a sacred object for past generations, and they treasured it.  But their desire for this food called “smoothie” would have to wait.  It required a blender and they had none.  So they continued their most faithful prayers, finding many pleasant (but mostly decorative and practically useless) things over the years, which they put to work to use as tables or art. 

At the end of it all they decided that if God had wanted them to have that perfect blend of many fruits and other ingredients they would have been given the tools—so they decided to be content with these beautiful things He provided instead..

When It Is Better To Do Nothing

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Have I mentioned that I’m tired of religious people and the prescriptions they give?

The real Jesus was defiant.  He upended the systems and standards of his time.  He was intentionally offensive to the self-righteous religious elites and then completely gentle with those who were broken.  There was no one-size-fits-all, no attempt to simplify the process.  Salvation is a walk of faith, not our ability to keep a set of fixed rules or pray a certain way, it is about our heart.

No, I’m not saying this as favoring the more libertine amongst us.  Being “free in Christ” is not a license to do whatever we want.  It is not about being ‘spiritual’ rather the religious either.  Rather it as about love:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. […] You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

(Galatians 5:1‭, ‬13 NIV)

A great deal of my social media connections are unregenerate social conservatives.  They love those fading structures that once kept people bound to their moral standards and yet lack any comprehension of grace or their own need of it.  They may see themselves as being righteous, for their exceptional ability to keep up certain cultural conventions, but they are very much like those rebuked and condemned by Jesus.

But still the alternative is not to go in the complete opposite direction.  It is not better to have no structure, to completely defy all cultural convention or use Christian freedom as an excuse to do whatever we please.  No, rather it is to serve and save others:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

(1 Corinthians 9:19‭-‬23 NIV)

Which is to reiterate the example of Christ:

…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Mark 10:43‭-‬45 NIV)

Our love for God is always, always, a matter of how we treat each other.  If we can’t love the people we see, specifically our brothers and sisters in Christ, then our claim to love God is a lie. (1 John 4:20)  Therefore, to be free in Christ, is not to shirk responsibility to each other.  It is not worshipful, at least not of God, to go to church (or not go) for own sake:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

(Matthew 5:23‭-‬24 NIV)

This is putting reconciliation with each other, true reconciliation. before or ahead of the ritual worship that religious people do.  No, it is not negotiable.  This is the command of Jesus.  And yet it is so often reversed.  It is acceptable to act or go through the motions of righteousness, but not to ask for the same authenticity that put Jesus at odds with the religious authorities.

Had Jesus just followed the rules and did what was expected he would never have been a threat to anyone.  The reality is that he saw through the empty gestures.  He was not impressed with those pious people who had their performative religion.  His call was for genuine love, to be merciful as our Father is merciful:

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

(Matthew 9:12‭-‬13 NIV)

That’s our true worship, to truly forgive and love those undeserving and broken.

Early Christians had a saying “unus Christianus, nullus Christianus,” which is to say that one Christian is no Christian.  This is to say that our Communion together, in Christ, needs to go beyond merely sharing the same physical space for a few hours or it is fake.  True Christianity can’t be reduced to mere individualistic pursuit of the Divine.  It is not an “only God can judge me” freedom from duty to others.

I could quote two dozen other texts and it would not matter.  So many are caught up in their own corrupted ‘traditions’ that they’ll always miss the forest for the trees.  But I’m not interested in dime-store Christianity, the kind that only loves in prescribed ways.  I want the real deal, the kind that frees and truly forgives.  I want what is alive, what has the true Spirit of truth and love in it, not the lifeless self-serving counterfeit form.

It’s not that the wonderful symbolism and designated acts of ‘Christian’ service are unimportant or useless either.  But it’s just that none of it really matters if it is not a part of something genuine.  As Jesus said, in Matthew 23:15, a person can “travel over land and sea to win a single convert” and only be successful in making their new convert “twice as much a child of hell” as themselves.  In that case it would be better to do nothing at all.

Even the mystical “cup of salvation” can be our damnation if we drink unworthily (1 Corinthians 11:29) or in disregard and without care for His body. The body of Christ meaning, at times, our fellow members of the Church or the people we encounter who are in need of love:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

(Matthew 25:35‭-‬36 NIV)

The Church With A Leak In The Roof

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There was this elegant old structure, in the countryside, a tall pointy steeple beckoning the passers-by to gaze upward at the blue skies.  It had been around at least a century, the doors still open to all.

One day a tradesman moved into this rural community and admired this building.  He loved the sturdy timbers holding beneath the slightly weathered clapboard siding, and then that ever-reliable stone foundation keeping it all square.

But one concern, as he did his inspection, was the missing roof shingles.  The wind and storms having taken their toll.  It would be a shame, he thought, to have the contents all get ruined and eventually see the church itself destroyed by this neglect.

So he thought to get involved.  He showed up one Sunday morning and met the pastor and congregation.  Good people.

The building inside was as beautiful as it was outwardly.  Fine craftsmanship at a level rare to non-existent anymore.  The stained glass in the sanctuary gave an ethereal feel and the beauty of the whole experience was breathtaking at times.  And yet, he could see the signs of a leaking roof, the water spots in the ceiling, and his concerns grew.

It was a few months later, after becoming a regular and joining the church, that there was a members’ meeting.  Taking the chance to raise the issue of the roof, he stood up, described the problem, and offered to help coordinate the repairs.  

There was a hush that came over the room.  An elder thanked him kindly for the suggestion and yet seemed slightly bothered.  

A week or two later the minister, a stately yet friendly man, took the tradesman aside, putting an arm on his shoulder, “Hey, brother, we’re glad you come here.  We love that you participate in all we do.”  He paused, trying to search for the right words.  “There has been some concern, umm or rather, I appreciate your perspective, as a man who works with his hands and I don’t want to discourage that.”  Stopping again. “However, the church is a spiritual place and, no offense, I know you meant well, but you need to have more faith.  If you see a problem, rather than be consumed by doubt or despair, looking for man-made solutions, pray about it, okay?”

Now a bit stunned, but still respectful, the tradesman did not argue.  He instead agreed to pray and did.

More time passed, things continued as usual, the roof continuing its deterioration, until one day the congregation was having a service and a chunk of the ceiling fell and squarely on the tradesman’s head.  Adding insult to the injury, as he began to brush the debris from his suit jacket, a stream of water from the rain shower outside completely drenched him.  

He was now upset.  Enough is enough!  We really need to do something about the roof, he decided, and approach the pastor again, after some small talk he announced, “You saw what happened today, right?”  And then continued, “I know a Christian must remain committed to prayer and that God is always in control, but we have the means to fix that roof and should!”

Disappointment swept over the pastor’s face as he considered this statement.  But, rather than lash out, he tried to be diplomatic, “I can hear your frustration.  And nobody likes to be humiliated.”  Smiling warmly to lighten the mood before getting serious, “Have you ever considered that the roof isn’t the real issue here?  I noticed you only wear a suit coat, it is okay and yet a bit underdressed for services.  Have you considered wearing a tie?”

The tradesman wore a tie from then on.  And, after a few more awkward encounters, where he was eventually forbidden from trying to throw a tarp over the growing holes and told to tithe more instead, he would do his best to keep his exasperation from showing.  It was none of his business, he was told, that we come to church to worship God together and prayer would provide all of our needs.

Eventually, the congregation of country folk would be left standing on top of the rubble.  They would spend the winters shivering in the cold and wind-driven snow, summers in the blazing heat, wondering why God had taken their wonderful building, yet serenely sure this was just a test of their faith and devotion to Providence.

The Shocking Truth About Diversity and Strength

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Composite materials are stronger than their component parts.  When two or more materials of unique strengths are blended together the result can be a composite that has the ideal characteristics of all the parts.  This is what makes concrete and rebar a formidable pair.  The combination gives both the compressive strength of concrete and also the tensile strength of the steel.  It is inarguable that diversity is not strength or at least when it comes to material science.

However, as all topics go, it does not end there.  Boeing, like all builders of commercial airliners, has two primary goals (besides safety) in their designs: Lightweight and reducing costs.  One of their innovations is the use of carbon fiber in their aircraft.  The problem with carbon fiber is that it reacts with or is corrosive of aluminum.  For this reason, they must use a separating layer of expensive titanium as the solution to this bad material pairing.  It works in this case, but diversity is also a source of conflict and potential systemic failure.

Diversity: Good and Bad

First, the good.  We’re all unique.  I go to work with a group of people with slightly different abilities and backgrounds from my own.  It is what allows us to specialize and thus be stronger as a team than if we tried to do it all by ourselves.  I would rather Patty do the bookwork, the members of our sales team talk to our customers and stick to my role of designing trusses.  This is where diversity is a great strength.

Furthermore, men and women are different, both physically and otherwise, which can make them an ideal pair.  Only a male and female can produce offspring together.  We can argue over the particulars or against sexist generalities, but there is something special about any diversity of characteristics that can lead to the creation of new life.  It is ideal in other ways as well.  One of this special partnership can provide and protect from outside threats, the other can nurture their children and organize their shared space.  It can be the best of human arrangements.

Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and what can be the best of things can also be the worst.  The gender wars, that endless battle for control between abusive men and their feminist counterparts, is how the most wonderful kind of diversity can go very badly and be anything but strength.  Diversity is, therefore, also a source of deep division and strife.  What can make a strong composite can also lead to corrosive interactions and unwanted drama.  Sparks flying.

Homogeneity is our strength?

While the West, the ‘woke’ Anglosphere in particular, is obsessed with “diversity and inclusion” as the highest order of priority, not all in the world do.  

Japan, for example, is very happy to remain Japanese and feels no need to host foreign refugees on their own ancestral lands.  This homogeneity of their culture and ethnicity does seem to help to reduce the friction in their society.  Crime is extremely low.  During the disaster at Fukushima older engineers were willing to sacrifice themselves for sake of their younger kinfolk.  And there’s just a sort of harmony that exists with everyone pulling in basically the same direction.

This has never really been the case in the United States   There were wars between the natives and new arrivals.  With every new immigrant wave arriving there was mistrust and contempt between these groups.  It is what led to sentiments like this:

Only a damn fool can expect the people of one tradition to feel at ease when their country is flooded with hordes of foreigners who — whether equal, superior, or inferior biologically — are so antipodal in physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup that harmonious coalescence is virtually impossible. Such an immigration is death to all endurable existence and pollution and decay to all art and culture. To permit or encourage it is suicide.

H.P. Lovecraft

It is notable that Lovecraft, the famed atheist writer of existential horror, had his strong opinions about various races, including Italians and Jews.  His racism, xenophobia, disgust over the intermixing of people or fear of contamination, has the markings of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.  And yet he was not entirely wrong about the “melting pot” being chaotic and creating a place that’s lacking social cohesion.

It is no big surprise that after a decades long assault on policing and national symbols that, with the ‘woke’ takeover, military and law enforcement recruitment is falling off a cliff.  Nobody, in their right mind, would ever sacrifice themselves for a country or cause that doesn’t represent them and their own values.  Participation requires buying into the common vision and is not possible when there’s competition for that spot.  Nobody wants to die for those who lack appreciation or are completely divorced from what matters to them.

Unequally Yoked: Understanding Biblical Warnings

There is a sort of distain, even amongst professing Christians, towards the Old Testament law.  The various cleansing rituals, dietary prohibitions and other restrictions can seem to be quiet arbitrary our modern ears.  Why does it matter if we mix several materials in our clothing, plant diverse seeds or crossbreed different animals?   

First, I believe this was more about teaching a concept of Holiness or being set apart for good.  

Second, it is a completely practical point about our greater potential when being of the same mind or spirit:

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

(Amos 3:3 KJV)

Third, this principal didn’t end in the Old Testament:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

(2 Corinthians 6:14‭-‬16 KJV)

The whole point of Old Testament law was to reinforce the things that St Paul explains above, we cannot expect good results when we are paired with those who are pulling in a completely different direction.  It’s simply reality, we need to have a boundary between ourselves and those who have nothing in common and want to destroy us.

Is Diversity Our Strength?

It depends.

I don’t think complete segregation of sexes or making all people androgynous is a good solution to gender difference.  Nor should we erase subcultures in the name of unity either.  We want diversity, we want people of different strengths.  But there needs to be some kind of common identity or bonding agent, otherwise we end up with a bunch of competing identities and a fight for the supreme position.  It takes a powerful adhesive to make composites work and this can mean a national identity that overrides all others.

Christ: The Ultimate Bonding Agent 

All composite materials rely on some kind of bonding agent to work.  And early Christians, likewise, were also trying to bridge some vast cultural differences.  In fact, much of the struggle, in the early church, came down to the difference between the Jewish born and Gentile coverts.  Should those newly converted, from non-Jewish background, be required to follow same requirements of faith or be exempted?

 There was plenty of compromise, a new vision (Acts 10:28) and joint identity formed in Christ:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

(Ephesians 2:11‭-‬18 NIV)

It is Christ who eliminates old social barriers:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

(Galatians 3:26‭-‬29 NIV)

So, diversity, if bonded in Christian love, can be an amazing strength.  But, when lacking any kind of joint identity it is a horror show, it is corrosive.  It leads to a bloody and violent competition for supremacy between rival groups.  Without Christ it becomes man versus woman, black versus white, class versus class, and there is no strength in this kind of arrangement.  The ‘strength’ of diversity is only possible when all, despite differences, are seeking after the exact same overall goal.

It is okay to have our own separate identities, even to celebrate our own cultural or ethnic heritage. But, when are being black or white, male or female, rich or poor, puts us at enmity with each other, when it is corrosive and causes is to react with hostility to those of a different perspective, then it must be brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and repented of rather than to be a source of pride. This is the higher order priority: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19 NIV) And, “over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 NIV)