Liturgies of Life

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The readers of this Irregular Ideation most likely noticed that I was down and struggling a bit.  No doubt the prayers of my family and good friends have been heard.  While the neck and other issues linger, there has been a break in the form of some good news that has brought with it that glimmer of hope again.

These cycles of mood and emotional swings have been something that I’ve pondered.  Despite there being events that are involved, there is also this sort of rhythm and inevitability to these things.  The phase “what goes up must come down” comes to mind.  Sure, I’m probably on the more neurotic end of things, with higher highs and lower lows.  But most people, no matter how good or bad their life is compares to others, seem able to identify with these ebbs and flows.

I mean, we have that time before coffee in the morning then that time after where the brightest of the world returns.  There are those the weekly slow starts “a case of the Mondays” contrast with that euphoria of Fridays.  Then the longer cycling patterns tired to holidays or weather.  Has anyone else had encounters with SAD or Seasonal Effective Disorder?  Descriptions like “terrible twos” or “the midlife crisis” exist for a reason.  Is the “sophomore slump” real?  I think so.  

And there does seem to be a preordained nature to this all, like the seasons or how the sun rises and sets. 

This kind of constant change is confirmed in Scripture:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1‭-‬8 NIV)

To me this is both beautiful and terrifying at the same time.  The woman who brought a man such joy in their youth may make him all the more lonely when the season of death and seperation comes.  The attributes that make a nation rise in prominence, say a focus on equality, can be the very thing that brings about their collapse once it finally does reach the top.  

Not to say that any of this is meted out evenly across board either, some do have it easier or a higher baseline mood and others not as fortunate, nevertheless there are patterns.  

Bigger dreams lead to bigger despair.  But a harder struggle can also lead to greater joy and a more wonderful triumph for the faithful than those who lived for their own comfort.  There is balance, there is growth, larger and smaller patterns, a predictability that seems could be modeled.  How it plays out across groups of people is also a fascination of mine.

My own thought is that we could probably remove the triggering events and still end up with the same patterns in the end. 

In other words, there would have been a world war even if the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had not been assassinated, my disenchantment with the Mennonite denomination would have eventually boiled over even if not for the same specific reasons, and Elon Musk’s Twitter account isn’t the reason the crypto market dropped from those all time highs either.

First, Let Me Talk About Stocks…

If cycles of human emotion could be mapped out, the stock market might be the place to start.  The euphoria of a “bull” market and seeming endless pessimism of a “bear” market show how our emotions, collectively, shape the direction or mood of the market.  But it is more than just random noise, it is a complex dance of feelings and facts, that produces the ‘right’ price in the end.  It can often be algorithmically predicted.

A little story, for example, of how it works: I have bought and sold Dogecoin over the past few months.  My first purchase, in December, at a cost of $1000 then, would have been worth hundreds of thousands at the peak.  I sold it for a small gain.  But later, as not to miss out, I bought in again, and saw my portfolio balloon when the “meme coin” finally caught fire.  However, over the past few months, things haven’t been too good and the price was going down and down.

At first I had complete resolve.  The smart investor holds, I did my due diligence, this is only a correction cycle and things will reverse soon.  But eventually the pressure broke me.  I decided that it was time to save what was left of my gains and move to something that would produce a better return.  I thought this down trend would continue indefinitely or at least go lower—give me a better buy-in price later, right?  

I’ll show you where I sold around 80% of my Doge…

Oh well, I think I’ll be able to get more later.

Yup.  I picked the very bottom of the downward trend.  Even knowing that cryptos have gone through similar corrective phases in the past before continuing their upward climb, and even telling my coworkers that Bitcoin (despite the plunge) would end the year above $70,000, I fell victim to fear, uncertainty and doubt precisely at the wrong time.  I had waited for two months to see that trend reversal, at the bottom, and would have gotten it had I held on for another couple more weeks.

But more than to talk about my missed opportunities, I’m interested in that larger cycle of the market and how human emotions (in an aggregate) create this clear pattern.  Many people want to blame events, like a Tweet from Elon Musk or what have you, for their change in fortunes.  However, while we could see these events as being triggers, it seems the larger patterns are something more or less baked in.  

Elon Musk speaks as Doge sells

Dogecoin, for example, could not continue straight up forever.  Smart investors, who know the adage, “buy the rumor, sell the news,” started to sell before Musk’s SNL appearance.  And the sell-offs came with mentions both good and bad.  It was not the autistic billionaire businessman’s fault that so many people decided on that moment to cash in nor that others began to panic sell as the price dipped.  It was all predictable, part of some sort of fractal meta-pattern, can be modeled (like this), and would have happened (triggered by something else) regardless.

Smart investors learn to zoom at, look at the longer trend, rather than let the emotions of a bad day get to them.  Cryptos, despite their recent dip, have remained in an ascending pattern with the recent lows still higher than the high of the prior cycle, which is why the smart money (unlike your’s truly) continues to buy the dip and HODL (Hold On for Dear Life) rather than give up.  Most people miss on big gains because they’re impatient.

Despite Recent Lows, An Upwardly Building Pattern Prevails…

It was after my most recent dip in mood that I realized something.  In my prior lows over the years, as a Mennonite, I would still go to church for the fellowship and yet would not sing if the words didn’t feel authentic coming from my mouth.  

But this past time, despite my feeling low, I still showed up to sing and did because (despite my pain and depressed mood) someone had to carry my part in the choir.  Music was my worship, spiritual combat, rather about how I felt.  This time I soldiered through the liturgy, toothache, emotional turmoil, and all.  I left immediately after the service, rather than do the social ‘coffee hour’ thing, because I was miserable.

It might seem to be virtuous to only show up or sing when the feelings are there and yet it is hardly sustainable.  If I only showed up for my job when I was in the mood or having a good day, my paycheck would be small to nonexistent.  Many marriages end in divorce because the ‘love’ therein depends on their feelings in the moment and is not an actual commitment to love through better or worse.

So, in short, this duty-driven devotion, rather than being led by emotions, is actually progress.  It was not simply another dive into the same dumps as before.  No, I have changed, improved, from the “be true to yourself” advice to doing my job, for the good of others (including my choir director), gutting it out.  Two steps forward, one step back, will eventually get you where you need to be.

There is a sense in which it was always a choice whether or not to participate.  But my character development?  That seems like something guided, the result of years of small nudges in the right direction, and not something that I can take credit for.  In other words, I’m becoming what I was meant to be, having been placed in the right time and circumstances.

Despite Individual Progress, Are We Becoming Weaker?

That’s not to say that this kind of building pattern cannot work in reverse.  When we consider our “first-world problems” in comparison to what people face in Afghanistan, it would appear that we are becoming collectively weaker rather than use the past generations boost.  We use our opportunity to “stand on the shoulders of giants” to bellyache about ‘oppression’ because other people are not forced to pay for our lifestyle choices.

To put things into perspective?  

Charlotte, my Igorot bhest, as the daughter of a subsistence farmer in the mountainous Benguet province, was sent away to assist her grandmother.  She describes her childhood as being her “grandma’s water pump,” carrying heavy buckets to keep the garden watered.  The work was so hard that she would cry and wonder why she was even born.  That’s pretty much how my grandparents or great-grandparents lived, they did complain and probably because there was nobody to listen.  Everyone struggled, physically, and became strong enough to survive.

Not Charlotte. But how many in the world work.

Compare that to my generation, where we were mostly spared hard physical labor, yet find plenty of reason to cry injustice.  We have gone from “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” to triggered because an Amish kid stares at us.  Being looked at too long a micro-aggression, I’ve heard.  My own endless existential crisis another example and there are many other cases, in my generation, of oversensitive and dark struggles of those truly privileged compared to their hardworking parents.

While past generations in my religious upbringing may blame their insecurities on the standards and not being appreciated by their workaholic father or whatever, the latest generation can’t even eat peanut butter without breaking into hives.  It isn’t their fault either, they’ve been coddled and protected from birth, their parents worked overtime to make sure that they felt heard and connected.  Now, rather than see their discontentment coming from having to follow ‘legalistic’ church standards, our youth will struggle with questions of whether or not they’ve somehow been mis-gendered at birth.

There is little doubt that our sterile environment is likely contributing to the vast increase in autoimmune disorders and allergies.  Whereas previous generations fell to disease, endured actual physical hardship and wondering where the next meal would come from, girls married as teenagers, we now have people distressed that someone used the ‘wrong’ pronoun…

Triggered transgender

However, in a sense, over the generations it is the same struggle in different form.  No matter how improved things become, whether we get that go cart we dreamed about every day or not, there will always be another circumstance to blame our own feelings of not belonging on.  The more challenges we remove for our children, the less capable they become.  No longer comfortable in their own skin.  We blame different externalities for our despair, yet maybe it is something genetic, internal and inevitable?

How Civilizations Rise And Fall

There have been various descriptions of how civilizations rise and fall, one example below:

Many Americans see that we’re on the decline and that our fall from world prominence is now as inevitable as the sun going down.  And, given that many great empires have come and gone, this is not a big surprise.  How could a nation of immigrants, people who left the oppression of the old world, traveled across the treacherous Atlantic and conquered a continent, who understood sacrifice, lead to a generation so entitled, unappreciative, self-loathing and suicidal?

It is easy to paint a very bleak picture.  But then, gripes about the next generation are as old as human civilization and this doesn’t always mean a collapse is imminent.  Yes, there is change.  Top hats have gone out of fashion and will likely never make a return, trends come and go.  There have been times of great social upheaval, like the American Civil War, followed by periods of relative calm.  Those who lived through the Great Depression, the World Wars or Cold War all had their anxieties about the end being near, only for that “great peace” and fall of the Soviet Union to follow.

What feels like the end, under fresh leadership, could be the start of a new epoch.  Take the fall of Rome.  Sure, the Mediterranean empire fragmented, yet the common thread of Western civilization has remained to this day and is arguably stronger than ever.  Yeah, the British Empire may no longer rule the seas, but their rebellious American sons and daughters have become even more powerful than any empire ever.  So maybe after a painful declining corrective phase there will be a revival or rebirth?

Our survival depends on our optimism.  We must assume that each pullback will lead to the next increase in amplitude.  No, that doesn’t mean this is easy, doubt and despair require far less effort than hope and faith; failure is always possible even with the best efforts, but humanity has made it through many bad moments—moments many times worse than any of us will likely experience in our own lifetimes.

Maybe the down is what we needed to give us the bounce to greater heights?

How To Cope In the Best and Worst of Times

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“What most frequently meets our view (and occasions complaint) is our teeming population. Our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly support us . . . . In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.”

That quotation, while it sounds current, was written by Tertullian, an early Christian writer, in the second century and in a time when the human population was around 190 million—as in total population of the planet!

Today, nearly two millennia later, with a population of 7.7 billion of us anxiety cucumbers, we carry on this tradition of handwringing and worry about overpopulation. Books, written decades ago, predicted there would be mass starvation in the 1970s and yet here we are—each new generation fearful of the impending doom.

How could this be?

How could the experts of a generation ago be so wrong in their gloomy predictions?

We have perpetually overestimated our importance in the grand scheme of things and then simultaneously underestimated our ability to innovate (collectively) and adapt to an ever-changing planet.

Sure, we’ve had our impact, things like extinctions and deforestation are concerning and there’s a strong argument for conservation of resources. However, those preaching about the coming apocalypse are often either the victims of their own pessimistic bias or being exploited for political reasons.

No, the Amazon is *not* the lungs of the planet. It is an ecosystem that also consumes nearly as much oxygen as it produces. The widely reported fires are not unusual and, for the most part, involved land that has already been cleared rather than the old-growth forest. Furthermore, the trends of deforestation are slowing and will likely reverse. The only real change is that a man whom leftists dislike was recently elected in Brazil.

Climate alarmism is also a perennial favorite of secular doomsayers. But, oddly enough, these dire warnings never seem to change the behavior of those making them. For example, the Obamas recently made a purchase of a $14.9 million dollar estate in Martha’s Vineyard. That would be an incredibly stupid move for someone who really believed that the oceans were about to rise. But the truth is that the headlines screaming about the end coming in a decade have been a reoccurring theme for decades and the only thing that has changed over the past couple decades is an *increase* in the polar bear population.

What is missing from the fear-mongering campaigns and politically motivated hype is some perspective. This planet has been around for a long long time and has seen dramatic changes in climate. North America was once covered in glaciers. The Sahara desert was once lush and populated. Species have come and gone. Events like Permian Triassic Catastrophe (the ‘Great Dying’) have nearly made this planet uninhabitable, took eons upon eons to recover from, and occurred long before humans arrived. This or something like it will probably end the world as we know it and no amount of windmills will make the slightest difference.

We are not in control. We do not make the sunrise in the sky nor do we know what lies ahead. Tomorrow could just be another day or it could be the day a civilization ending asteroid hits and wipes out everything we have worked tirelessly to create, accumulate or preserve. My point isn’t to be defeatist or to encourage indifference. No, my point is to free you from fear and give you an opportunity to embrace what we do have—this fleeting moment to live and enjoy the experience.

No Earthly Good…

There is an ironic expression “don’t be so heavenly-minded that you are no earthly good” that is used to describe a person who wrongly uses big things to escape their small responsibilities. For example, when the Pharisees, always concerned about maintaining appearances for their religious peers, would declare “Corban” (set aside for God’s use) resources that should have gone to their mothers or fathers instead and Jesus calls them out for it.

Many use lofty reasons as an escape from faithfully performing their own mundane duties. It is easy to decry abuses a world away, but much harder to sacrifice our own personal advantages to serve local needs. We live in a world full of virtue-signaling social media personalities who either naively believe their 280 characters is making a difference or do so cynically, for selfish gain, and simply know what will help them climb the social ladder. There are many who would gladly make others suffer for sake of their conscience and yet rarely lift a finger themselves.

Those stuck in their worries rarely do much good in the world and especially when the anxieties are about things well out of their control. If anything the environmentalist’s obsession with planet-sized issues leads to indifference. In other words, some excuse their own hypocrisy in the name of saving the planet. Many others, more realistic about their ability to save the planet, are disheartened and give up entirely on the enterprise. Both miss the opportunity to make their own corner of existence better.

I recall many lectures from Evangelical pastors about things like the “10/40 window” and millions of ‘lost’ people in the world. The message, if meant to encourage, backfired for me. Unlike them, evidently, I could “do the math” and, by their reasoning, millions of souls would be damned regardless of my involvement and my time would be wasted. I mean what difference could one man make? Likewise, many are frozen rather than empowered by their global focus, even the activists themselves, and would be far more effective if they significantly reduced their scope.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, the two who passed by the wounded man were too concerned with other things to intervene on behalf of the immediate need. Likewise, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, the unnamed rich man overlooked, possibly even stepped right over starving and sick Lazarus, on his way to important business elsewhere. In both cases above you have ‘big picture’ people missing a small, but obvious, local need and being condemned as a result.

To be truly “heavenly-minded” (at least according to the Gospel) is actually to love your neighbor, meaning that person right along the path you are on or literally at your front gate. That is how to be heavenly in a way that makes a real difference in the world. Those who try to ‘play God’ and save the world are “out of their lane” and are bound to be completely delusional or constantly overwhelmed. To be actually lofty means to sacrifice global ambition and to become locally active.

True faith does not require travel over land or sea, does not need outside funding or forced cooperation of the multitude, it only requires seeing the need in front of you and being the solution.

The Real Problem of Our Time…

The times we live in are unusual, but not for lack of a means to feed ourselves. And we’ve definitely left our mark on the planet, we (like all organisms) consume and in our consumption change the environment we live in. The universe is in a state of entropy, this planet is no exception, yet somehow there is life and we are here, extremely advanced, consciously aware of our place in it. We did not create the order we live in nor will we preserve it forever.

The established order of life, death, and birth again is something that should awe-inspiring and never a source of anxieties. From dust we came and to dust we shall return.

However, we are social creatures, we desire to have meaning and purpose in our lives, therefore we should find a role to serve. Which is the big problem in our time, we have our basic needs met with very little effort (at least in the developed countries) and should feel happy and content. But we are also more acutely aware than ever of the world’s problems and as a result, many feel more helpless and stressed than ever. In a time of peace, prosperity, and connectivity many are feeling angry, alienated and desperate for attention.

A History Guy video, “John B Calhoun and the Rats of N.I.M.H.,” about the threat of over-crowding and urbanization, deserves credit for provoking my thoughts. Calhoun had led a series of scientific studies involving rodents placed in a controlled, seemingly ideal, environment where necessities were provided and conditions right for a rapid expansion of population. The results of the experiments were startling, as the crowding increased so did the social dysfunction. Traditional mouse courtship was abandoned. Bizarre behavior from that of non-breeding “beautiful ones” to inexplicable violence (cannibalism, killing young, etc) became increasingly commonplace leading to a total collapse.

This “behavioral sink,” as Calhoun described it, was not a problem of lacking resources, the rats and mice had more than enough to thrive. But it was an issue of socialization, a question of carrying and comfort capacities, and illustrated the need for social structures. There are problems with this experiment, like all experiments, and human behavior is much more complex than that of rats or mice, but there does seem to be information relevant to our own human condition, as social creatures, and the rapidly changing times we live in.

What is really happening in our time is a disruption of beneficial structures and indiscriminate destruction of normalcies. Long gone are the times when most people stayed closely connected to a small group of people in one geographic place, we now drive thirty minutes to be with a friend, search for love across oceans, and many have no church, were raised in daycare by strangers and think “likes” on social media is relevance. The increase in substance abuse, mass shootings, and suicide could all be symptoms of a break down of social structures, like family and community, that give individuals a secure place.

We seem to be accelerating towards a cataclysmic end of our civilization, but that is a bit too pessimistic an outlook. Our species did not rise in numbers solely as a result of prolific breeding or by living in ideal environments. No, in fact, we survived to later thrive as a result of our unique capability to adapt ourselves to any climate and modify the environment to suit our own needs. Still, that does not mean we can continue to go in the direction we are going and our introspection is good so long as it leads us to make the changes needed.

Calhoun spoke of the need for a “compassionate revolution” and that our success often came as a result of honoring deviance over tradition. But he was also a man of his age. In our time it may be revolutionary, even rebellious, to live an ordinary life, to not indulge in travel, to stay local, to be loyal to our own familial commitments and remain faithful to the needs right at our doorstep. We need a restoration of the home and sacred space, a place to belong and also to be separate from the chaotic din of the mass media age.

We are not gods nor are we dumb beasts. We cannot singlehandedly save the planet, we can’t fix every problem either, but we can help to improve our local environment and settle our own internal space in a way that will bring light into the life of those we meet. The world needs fewer things to worry about, more love, hope, hugs, and Matthew 6:34:

“…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”