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?

What Wears Me Out

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I’ve always been a sort of magical thinker, my hopes always far outpacing my realities, and to the point that sometimes when my dreams would finally come true the pleasure had already been exhausted.

I had so wanted a go cart growing up.  On the school bus ride home my mind would start to wander into the fantasy realm.  I would picture a shiny new go cart, like the ones in the catalog, waiting for me at the end of the driveway and would actually be disappointed when it did not end up being true when we would finally pull up to to my stop. 

That’s not to say that I didn’t love the old go cart that my dad would finally weld up, using a rusted frame as a starting point, and an old lawnmower engine.  Anything with four wheels, that ran on gasoline, that could be slid around corners, definitely scratched that itch.  Still, my vivid world of make-believe did not always end with any fulfillment.

In my adulthood this tendency to be way out ahead of myself did not get any better.  I’ve cried, on more than one occasion, thinking of my beautiful bride walking towards me up the aisle.  And not in sadness either, it was in bliss having momentarily put myself in that wonderful place.  Of course, given that I never even so much as went on one date with this young woman, I pretty much ruined that music.

The world between my ears can be a paradise.  A place where there’s such thing as innocent love and anything is actually possible.  I used this as an escape.  My school years spent doodling and hoping for some kind of rescue from the mundanity of the classroom.

These visions were often grandiose.  A child scaled B-17 would land in the school yard.  I would run out to meet my faithful crew as the teacher and 5th grade class would watch in disbelief, stunned, as we revved the engines and were on our way to the nation (later a planet with two suns) that I benevolently ruled along with my brother Kyle and cousin Mel.

Truly, I had always thought that Kyle and I would always be together, build a house with a chimney in the center, like the ruins that I saw on a Civil War battlefield.  I’m not sure why, but it didn’t seem possible then (despite our fights) that we ever be separated, let alone hours apart, and I really can’t claim to have gotten over that disappointment yet.  He moved on, it seems that I could not.

And I have lived a sort of Peter Pan existence.  Holding on, hoping that some day the love that had eluded me, child-like and innocent, would finally magically arrive to rescue me from my torment for having failed to achieve.  I long overstayed the youth group.  Until I had my happily ever after, what choice did I have?  Get old by myself and alone?

Unfortunately, hope is not a strategy and I lacked the necessary social tools to approach an attractive young woman—let alone convince her to date me.  

Years would go by, where I would convince myself, “this time will be different,” and end up leaving the church retreat no closer to my goals and disappointed.  These beautiful wonderful thought going in would slowly morph into a nightmarish reality as opportunity would pass me by and I would be left with only my profound loneliness again.

It was only in my mid thirties that this optimism would crack and the pattern of hope followed by disappointment would finally overwhelm me.  Brimming with outsized expectations, I would arrive at the weekend, and suddenly shut down.  The wheels came off, I would collapse into the nearest couch, curl up, unable to push myself to try again—eventually ending up a sobbing mess.

The pressure had become too much.  The difference between my hopes and reality too insurmountable. 

Sure, I could entertain my delusions, the right one was going to finally arrive, we would look at our feet, shy at first, we would talk, she would smile at my earnest thoughts, I would finally be at ease and soon enough we would be walking hand in hand out the back of a church.  But the chances of that were as good as Gatsby somehow being able to turn back the hands of time and Daisy would be his.

My collapse from exhaustion came at the tail end of decades of forced optimism and sweeping aside my rational fears.  I did not want a world where my being 5′-8″ tall and rather unathletic disqualified me.  Love, to me, especially pertaining to my female religious counterparts, was supposed to be something transcendent.  Unfortunately, what I got instead was a brick wall of rejection.

Life is especially cruel to those with a high ideal.  If I were less able to see the marvelous maybe I could have more easily moved on to more practical aims.  But I could never get my head out of the clouds nor was I willing to acknowledge the harsh truth about romance.  The young women were also chasing their version of perfection and that perfect man wasn’t me.

Somehow, despite a mind that could span universes, I ended up being thirty years old living in Milton and thus ineligible for that kind of love.  How does a dreamer, still holding to those childish notions of escape, ever recover from that terrible pronouncement?

They don’t. 

It wears me out thinking about it.  

It makes me think of another novel and protagonist, Ethan Frome, an injured ruin of a man.  His house reduced in size as he limped, painfully, through what remained of his life.  Not even granted the merciful end to his suffering of that suicide pack those many years before.  Perhaps my life would have been better had my secret world been a little more stark, desolate and devoid of life?

Rudolf Diesel: Thoughts about Idealism, Despair, Progress, Politics and Hope

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Diesel powers the world economy.  I never considered the extent to which that is true until watching a documentary (click here to view it) about this type of internal combustion engine.  It is named after the inventor, a French-German mechanical engineer, Rudolf Diesel, and is the reason why global trade is possible to the extent it is.

Early Diesel design, circa 1897

In considering the story of Diesel, his brilliant invention and the results, I could not help but see the pattern all too common with innovators.  Diesel’s life turned tragic, he was found floating in the North Sea, dead of an apparent suicide, and likely a result of his despair over the unintended consequences of his own design.

According to biographical accounts, Diesel was a utopian idealist who had hopes that his invention would be a catalyst for social change, free the common man and break corporate monopolies.  Unfortunately, while a revolution for transportation, Diesel power did not achieve the lofty social vision. 

Worse, the Diesel engine found use as a part in an efficient killing machine, the German U-boat, and this no doubt grieved the pacifist inventor.

Here are some observations…

#1) What is intended for good can often be used for evil.

Diesel had never intended his invention be used as a means of terrorizing North Atlantic shipping lanes.  And, likewise, many scientists and inventors had regrets related to their greatest contribution to the world.

German U-boat, the original stealth weapon 

There are lists from K-cups to A-bombs online and many others.  For example, Henry Ford seemed to dislike the vast social changes and consumerist mindset made possible by his manufacturing revolution that helped automobiles become a fixture of American life.  Even this media, the internet, once thought to be the beginnings of an information age, has become a cesspool of pornography and ill-founded claims.

I worry about this as a blogger.  Once my thoughts are out there they cannot be contained again.  Will someone pick up my words and run with them in a direction I never intended?  It is a potential outcome that could scare a sensitive soul into silence and is at least a reason for me to be prayerful in what I post here.

I believe there are many people who do not thoroughly think through the potential unintended consequences of the ideas they promote.  There are many government programs and social movements intended for good that might actually be creating more problems than the one that they were intended to solve.

Which takes me to a second point…

#2) Yesterday’s revolution is today’s loathed source of inequality and evil.

It is ironic that the invention that did actually outcompete coal for market supremacy is now enemy #1 for many.  The internal combustion engine won in the marketplace because it was by far the cheapest most efficient means to power transportation and still remains. 

Given there are no steam powered cars, tractors, trains and ships anymore, it is clear that internal combustion is the best bang for the buck and remains to be rivaled.  Diesel powered locomotives and ocean going container ships are extremely powerful while being very economical.    

109,000-horsepower Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C

Diesel power still outperforms hybrid technology—A loaded Diesel powered class 8 truck is more efficient pound for pound than a Prius.

Think about it: It takes one gallon of fuel to move an 80,000lb truck five to seven miles.  A 2016 Prius, by comparison, carries a weight of around 4000lbs can go anywhere from 50 to 58 miles on a gallon of fuel.  It may seem the Toyota is greener until you consider that it is moving twenty times less weight.  Twenty Prius cars combined together, after dividing their individual consumption by twenty, would consume 2.5 to 2.9 gallons of fuel.  Now, obviously, combining Diesel and hybrid technology on the scale of class 8 truck would undoubtedly yield even greater results if fuel economy were the only concern, but the point remains that Diesel power is extremely efficient and effective—and only more so the larger the application.

So what’s the problem?

Well, the current popular perception is that the petroleum industry “big oil” is the enemy and conspires to hold back technology that would dramatically increase efficiency.  Worse than that, we are told that petroleum power is a source of global climate change and a threat to the global ecology.  Poor Diesel would be driven even further into despair if half this is true.  We fight over oil.

 #3) Progressive aims of our time are at odds with each other or self-contradictory.

Globalism, higher standard of living for more people and environmentalist ‘green’ movements are at odds with each other.  Pushing one direction will almost invariably come at the cost of the others. 

Progressive politicians may tout an idea of a ‘green economy’ as a jobs creator, but the reality has been that wind and solar energy can only remain competitive through heavy use of government subsidies.  Beyond that, even with the help, domestic ‘green’ manufacturing is unsustainable against foreign competition.  At best we will merely replace jobs lost by the heavy regulations placed on fossil fuels and raise costs of living across the board.

Furthermore, it was the progressive policies of the past century that have created the current conditions.  Government policies like the Rural Electrification Act, the Interstate highway system and trade agreements have actually moved us away from a more sustainable less polluting lifestyle.  Our cheap and easy movement from place to place has harmed community and local markets.

Rural Electrification Act propaganda poster.

It is hard to know how the current landscape would look had the progressives of yesterday had not literally paved the way for suburban sprawl, the trucking industry (that currently employs me) and driven us to embrace a coal powered grid.  But I do suspect more of our food would be locally grown, more of our products locally produced and solar energy far more the norm in places utilities would be to costly to maintain unless mandated by law.

In final analysis things might not be as dismal as they seem.

It is easy to focus on the negative without considering the good.  The means of today are likely as unsustainable as the means of yesterday and therefore the progress of the past century might not be the end of us after all.  The only consistent reality in the past two centuries has been that markets constantly change.

Canal boats an all the infrastructure to support them were soon replaced by steam power and railroads.  In Pennsylvania the lumber industry rose in prominence before a rapid decline after the states wooded mountains were reduced to stubble.  The coal industry once put food on the table for boat loads of immigrants before cheap efficient oil and a multitude other factors conspired against it.

Bay State Mills, Lawrence, built 1845.

Manufacturing, from the once mighty water powered textile mills of the New England states to the formerly unstoppable domestic steel industry, has also migrated following cheaper labor and energy.  Each time promoting deep consternation and fear.  But so far the Luddites have yet to have the last laugh and a new balance is eventually found that usually benefits everyone.

Certainly the overconfidence and optimism about today’s new solution may become the big disappointment of tomorrow.  Yet, do we really wish to go back to a time when a transatlantic voyage was only something a religious zealot or crazy Viking explorer would do?  Would we really rather spend most of our time scrounging for just enough to eat as to avoid the possibility of mechanized warfare?

Nobody knows for certain why Diesel died... 

However, what is certain is that his invention changed the world and provided a means for interstate commerce and global trade that never existed before.  The pacifying effect of global trade, economic benefits of an expanded market place and inexpensive power are largely unappreciated.  But we probably do have Diesel to thank for helping create the long peace and prosperity of our time.

Maersk, Triple-E design, Diesel powered, container ship

In an age of information overload, where we know about beheadings in the Middle East before the people the next town over would have heard a century ago, it is difficult for our finite minds to contextualize and easy to become overwhelmed.  This, with an accompanying loss of faith, could be why middle-aged American white males are committing suicide (supposedly the most privileged in the world) and at an alarmingly increasing rate. 

Diesel’s pessimism about the future in retrospect seems to have been premature and his nightmarish perception of reality overstated.  In like manner many of our modern fears and despair inducing thoughts about the future could be negativity bias and nothing more.  Every generation seems to believe that the world is falling apart and still here we are.

Whatever the case, ignore the fear-mongering propaganda of the punditry and politicians.  Embrace temperance, a spiritual quality developed through faith, over mindless reaction and fearful impulse.  Trust God to secure the future, we can only live one day at a time and never ever lose hope!  If you are depressed about events in the world today, I invite you to see the higher perspective:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Perhaps the greater of two evils will be elected come November and drive the nation to complete ruin.  

Who knows besides God?

We may all die tomorrow, we will all die eventually, our work blown away in the wind of time and forgotten.  Everything comes to pass, nothing will remain as we know it today, but there is hope beyond all hope found in an eternal perspective.  So look up, because the sun is still shining and the future remains bright!

Do you see the light and feel the warmth of hope eternal?

If not, my prayer is for the blind to see…