Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dogged and Methodical

I have had a rather painful epiphany of sorts over the last week.

For years I believed myself to be a sort of inspired "flashes of brilliance" person, the sort of person that succeeded by way of creative insights that seemed to leap out of mind into a waiting world.  A creative mind of sorts, one that rollicked from tasks to task able to pick it up and make my keen analysis and provide solutions and then rocket on to the next item.  Success was always one (or - let us be fair - two) brilliant, penetrating ideas away.

It turns out that is probably not true.

I do not know that it was never true.  Maybe it was, back when the world was younger and some things had not been discovered which have sense been discovered.  But it is certainly not true now.

The error in my thinking has been revealed to me all at once, propelled by a short personality analysis that suggested that I am not what I have thought myself to be (more on that, perhaps, tomorrow) and a series of work failures where "creative insights" are no match for planning and allowing one's self enough time.

In other words, the only inspiration that is happening here is dogged, methodical work.

I understand if you find this amusing or even silly - after all, to many it may be a very self evident outcome.  But to myself, quietly simmering in my own juices about what I believed to be true, it is simultaneously the most shocking and horrifying thing of my recent life.

Shocking?  Yes, because I have (literally) never seen this in myself - or believed it to be true, anyway.  I could run a list of things that I did well at (through college) and came easily to me.  And even afterwards, there really were occasional moments where my creativity did move things forward dramatically, although probably a lot less often than I liked to believe.

Horrifying?  Yes, because I grasp what that means for me (I know myself at least that well). Truth be told, to do something well I have to do it slowly.  Which means a lot of work, a lot more work than I had thought necessary or desirable.

Dogged and methodical  I understand the concepts.  And occasionally I have even practiced them.  But now I find myself confronted with the reality that this really how the rest of my life is going to go.

The prideful part of me grouses about this because the dogged and methodical  is not celebrated anywhere in our culture (a side shout out to my ego, which thinks it really is all about me).  It is the creative, the flashy (nothing flashy about methodical!), the amazing, that is celebrated.  Perhaps a nod is made once in a while to "the tireless person doing X" - but no child ever in school grows up hoping they have such a career.

But I have to have the strength of character to look at myself and accept this as truth.  Not that such people do not exist - such people are just not me.

It is adjusting to the fact that today will quite likely be like yesterday and tomorrow as well - and that actual success (if such a thing is possible) will take a lot longer and be a lot less glamorous than I had ever anticipated.

In some ways I envy that guy long ago who thought the world was his for creative ideas and the applications of them.  And I am grateful, I suppose, that he had luxury of pretending that it was really true.  At least he believed the world was his oyster to be shucked, not a hard rock mine to be patiently dug.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Unable To Trust

Tied to yesterday's thoughts about emotional disconnection I wonder - have we become a people who are unable to trust?

My first memories of politics are after Watergate (for those friends who are ex-US, this was in 1974) - in fact, my very first memory is Gerald Ford being sworn in as President.  As a result, I cannot remember a time where Americans did not have a high (and ever mounting) distrust of their governmental institutions.  In some ways that is arguably a healthy thing (surely the Founders would have thought it so); on the other hand, a consistent and constant distrust makes actual forward progress a very difficult thing.

Or take our own personal lives.  So much of what many have now is based on a carefully controlled social image.  As someone pointed out to me last week, we almost never post about our fights or arguments or the things that put us in a bad light; to look at social media is to think that we are almost always photogenic, in a good mood, and our lives are smooth sailing.  I wonder if this too breeds a certain instinctive level of distrust:  after all, no-one's life can be 100% on all the time, can it?

We build images around ourselves, insulating layers of how we wish to be perceived - and suddenly find that insulation has made us different than what we thought we were.  And perhaps on some level we begin to distrust ourselves as well, if we really admitted it.  We have become disconnected from ourselves and in some cases, we - or at least I - begin to not trust the things that I am saying to myself in the dark corners of the night.

Do I have a solution for this? Not really.  I certainly wish I did of course - much like with emotional disconnectedness, relationships and societies (which are really just a very complicated web of relationships) cannot be maintained long term without it.

Trust implies a confidence, a faith in the other that they are what they are and will do what they say.  But if all we have become are images and layers, what is there that we can find to have faith in the other person?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Emotional Disconnection

I find, on the whole, that I am emotionally disconnected from most people.

I am not sure where this really started.  I am not even sure that things were always this way.  I want to believe that I used to be more connected at the emotional level with people.  But I find that I am not.

How did I get here?  That is pretty easily enough understood, at least in retrospect.  I - and perhaps everyone - has a tendency to shut down when either one's dreams are mocked or one's efforts are ignored.  I would argue that one of the most emotionally painful incidents of all is to bare one's heart, one's true inner self - and have it laughed at or mocked or worst of all acted upon as if it never existed.

Our current social climate has helped precisely nothing, of course.  We have made an entire of industry of surface appearances, of ensuring that any sharing beyond a very basic level will result in mockery, attacks, or just plain shunning.  140 characters and fancy memes have overtaken our ability to share - let alone frame - our deepest emotions.

And what does this leave?  A wasteland.  A vague sense that everything is not as it should be.  An insulating effect between us and almost everyone around us.  The dull monotones of unchallenged conversations, the quiet sighs as the standard questions are asked and answered, the occasional flickers of deeper longings that stab us when we see an example of the emotional connection that we only wish we could have.

Can one find their way back?  This is the question that nags at me as I consider my life. There are occasional - oh so rare - moments when we find someone that the communication goes beyond the short give and take of modern communications.  To those people we latch on, as a mussel to the rock on which it has been cast to prevent the continued battering of the waves.  But these seem few and far between and really only represent pin-pricks of light, stars in otherwise midnight sky.

It is not, I suppose, that we intended to end up this way.  It is just that ultimately survival, the ability to function, becomes far more important than our willingness to endure the pain of continually reaching outside our inner emotions only to feel their fragile tendrils wilt in the heat of others' social superiority and public posturing.

Quiet waters, they say, run deep.  Perhaps the more modern application is that deep waters all eventually run underground.




Monday, July 24, 2017

Persian Fire: The First World Empire and The Battle for the West

Along with Mastering the West I also had the opportunity to purchase Persian Fire:  The First World Empire and the Battle for the West by Tom Holland (again, a used book store purchase!).  The title, as you might suspect, suggests a history of the Greco-Persian Wars.



I am no stranger to this time period.  I have a number of works on these time frame (the originals, of course, from Herodotus and Plutarch as well as 20th Century narratives) and am reasonably familiar with the time frame and the events.  I got the book, not expecting a great deal of additional new knowledge but rather a good read.

I did get the good read.  I also got a lot of new knowledge.

Holland actually reaches back into the history of each of the main players - Persia, Sparta, and Athens - and charts  the development of each state to their fateful meetings.  The Persian narrative was by far the most interesting, probably because it was the least known by myself and took the view of the Persian Empire as its own entity, not as the "barbarian over-reaching nation" we have left from Greek history.  For Athens, he gives a wonderful discussion of the history of Athens and its oligarchs up to the point of 507 B.C. where democracy is really and truly established for the first time - and shows it for the novelty that it was (democracy at the time of the Battle of Marathon was only 17 years old- no wonder the Athenians felt is was something worth fighting for).  Sparta is portrayed with all of its characteristics, both good and bad (so many authors seem to focus on one or the other).

But Holland's gift lies not just in the history but in his narrative.

He writes as if writing a fictional novel.  Seen from the King of Persia's view, the extension into Europe was the logical next step.  His descriptions of the battles left me on the edge of my seat - even thought I already knew the outcomes.  Will the Athenians hold true to the alliance/  Will Sparta march to Plataea?  You can hear the crash of shields at Marathon and the muffled "whump" of wicker shields breaking at Thermopylae and the snapping of oars and hulls at Artemisium and Salamis.

In the end, you walk away with the very real sense of what a miracle it was that the Greeks held the day - and thus the ideas that Western civilization came to be based on.  Without Marathon and Thermopylae and Salamis there is no Plato, no Aristotle, no Socrates, no Euclid, no Alexander of Macedon and his Hellenization that spread Greek and Greek culture across the Near East.  It would have been quite the other way around:  Persian thought, the worship of Ahura Mazda, and a legacy of of submission to autocratic authority (Would the ideas we hold as the foundation of Western culture have arisen?  Possibly, but who knows where or what they would have looked like.)

This is a book well worth your time, be it as a historical work or as a narrative work.  You will leave it with the sense of what a close-run thing history can be at times and how in a very real sense all of use - at least every part of the world that enjoys the fruits of Western thought - are indebted to a people long ago, whose ideas and ideologies we would find repugnant today, but who felt that liberty and freedom was something to be cherished and fought for.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mastering The West: Rome and Carthage At War

So as part of my trip reading I got to read a book I had earmarked some weeks ago at my local used book store (and when I bought it, got 40% off!).    It is called Mastering The West:  Rome and Carthage At War  by Dexter Hoyos.



This was a period that I was only slightly familiar with:  yes, of course I have heard of the Punic Wars and I have read Livy and Polybius and Hannibal has passed into legend - but it was the actual histories themselves and not the larger picture of the Western Mediterranean at War

I was quite pleasantly surprised.

Hoyos' underlying thesis is that the Punic wars are what pushed Rome into its Empire; more interestingly, that it happened over the course of the wars (Rome was not seemingly at all interested after the first Punic War (264 - 241 B.C., but by the end of the Second Punic War - 218 to 201 B.C. - she was committed), and that in some ways the issue never seemed in doubt - not so much from the greatness of Rome at the time but rather the ineptness of Carthage and her commanders.  In short, Carthage had the ability at several junctures to bring defeat out of victory and become the Empire of the West but failed to take the chance.

All the old characters are here in greater detail that I have ever read of them:  Scipio Africanus and his uncles the two Scipios,  Quintas Fabius Maximus "The Delayer", Hannibal (who turns out to be a good general that through away multiple chances for real victory) and his brothers Mago and Hasdrubal, and a host of supporting characters Carthaginian, Sicilian, Celtiberian, Greek, and Roman.  And they are presented in the historical milieu that makes it all the more real (Hoyos is an excellent writer).  In his words we wander across Sicily, march our way up through what is now Spain and France and down into the Alps, and hear the crack of ships timbers as they break and the cries of soldiers.  

For anyone looking to understand the bridge between Rome's conquest of Italy and the drive to conquer the world, I highly recommend the book: well written, well documented, and extremely engaging.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

On A Burden

I am worn in this matter,
more than I can admit.
Constantly struggling- and mostly failing.

I wish I could say I was getting better,
that there was progress being made,
that "it" was decreasing - but it is not.


I asked for deliverance but it has not come:
only the long burning ache of my bones
and pain in my heart as I plod on.

Perhaps there is relief,
or perhaps only the pain of the struggle,
until the Final removal comes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Visit With Uber

As part of our trip, we have used Uber three times:  once from the airport to the hotel and twice from the hotel to a local shopping area.  It is my first trip using Uber.

Without question, I will never use a taxi again wherever I am somewhere that Uber is an option.

1)  Pleasant Cars:  Every Uber car we have used has been clean and well taken care of.  No older model cars.  No nasty seats.  No random odors floating about.  No plastic wall between you and the driver, making you feel as if you are in a squad car.

2) The price is fixed:  We have not had to wonder how much the fare was going to be or how it would be influenced by time in traffic or a driver getting lost.  Up front, we have known exactly what we were going to pay.

3) No car transaction: I gather once you have the app and the payment card input, it is all handled electronically.  No waiting to run the car.  No having to make change.  Good heavens, you do not even discuss the transaction at all.  And certainly no "surprise" discussions about having to boost the price because of cash, distance, etc. (this happened to me in Miami once).

4)  Pleasant Drivers:  I am sure that this is not always the case, but we have had very good luck to date with our drivers.  Some are conversational, others are less so, but all of them have been several levels above most of my cab interactions - and , because the price if fixed, I never have to worry if they are taking me in the quickest way possible (honestly, they lose money if they take longer than they anticipated).

It would not have worked before - but the combination of satellite GPS, electronic funds, and cell phones and made the whole thing work smoothly and like clockwork.  I do not know that cabs will completely ever disappear, but I suspect their dominance as short term transportation will rapidly dwindle.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Brief Out And About

Greetings, friends, from the land of oranges and Mickey Mouse (otherwise known as Orlando, FL).

What, you are thinking:  Have you lost your mind?  Two vacations in one summer after not taking two in a row one summer after the next?

Worry not, friends.  This is none of my doing.  Blame the Ravishing Mrs. TB, whose work is having her attend a conference - and they let spouses come along!  No Mickey for us (at $140 a day) but time away from all and with a great many of her work associates. So it is close enough to work related to keep my single summer vacation record untouched.

I am looking forward to two days being somewhere that (literally) I have no responsibilities at all.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Tameshigiri



Tonight was tameshigiri (test cutting).

We cut saturated tatami mats, rolled up into cylinders we call wara.  They are placed on a stand addressed as "bokusensei"  (literally "wooden teacher).  The object is then to cut the mat.

But not just to cut through the mat.   No, the point is to see how one's cuts are performing.  Force and strength is not enough in and of themselves to consistently cut well.  The hasuji (cutting angle) is critical:  the correct means an successful cut (and most likely cutting all the way through), an incorrect angle - too flat or too pronounced - means the sword will most likely be caught in the grain of the mat and not cut through.  And it is not enough just to cut through - one must execute the cut one intended to, not just the cut one may have ended up with.

Tameshigiri is one of the few teaching tools that is instantly instructional.  The results of the cut are available as soon as you finish.  Any flaws in the cut - a bad angle, failure to cut through the target instead of to the target - are instantly revealed and available for correction.  It is the most instant form of instruction and self correction I know.

The items you see above is the result of my first cut - a kesagiri (shoulder to hip).  The angle looks reasonably acceptable.  It did get through - but you would be surprised at the relatively small amount of strength I had to exert.  I had to make an effort - but could never just through with brute strength

Frankly, I wish life was more like tameshigiri:  instant feedback for instant correction.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

We

I have come to hate the word "we".

It is a word that seems particularly used quite often in our modern, team oriented society. "We need to do this", "we need to get complete this", "we want this" - you would think from this that "we" tend to do all activities together.

Why have I come to hate it?  Because it does not mean what it used to.

Once upon a time, "we"  meant "us" - as in "all of us about whom I am speak".  It was, in that sense, truly a "group" term.  Now, more often than not, it seems "we"  means "you".

"We need to do this"  really means "you need to make sure that this happens".  "We need to complete this" often means "this needs to be done, and I am sure not doing it."  And "we want"?  This actually more often means "I want, but it sounds less selfish if I say we".

It has become an absolution for responsibility.  By saying "we" I absolve myself from having to take action.  I have announced that action needs to be taken - but by speaking it and including you, I have effectively transferred the responsibility of the action off of me and onto you (see the now famous phrase "We talked about this, right?"

It a thing is we - truly as a group - then keep we. Otherwise, have the intellectually honesty to say "you".  It will not make what is being suggested any more palatable or pleasant, but at least the desired party to take action will be quite clear.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

300 Lbs.

Yesterday afternoon I squatted 300 lbs.  Twice.

A nominally useful fact is that this was a 10 lb Personal Record (PR) for me.  Another nominally useful fact is that this was equal to my single PR - also 300 lbs.  A third nominally useful fact is that it is 171.4% of my body weight.

Why do any (or all) of those facts matter?  Because sometimes I find it very easy to get down on myself because sometimes progress is hard to measure.  I compare myself to my friends - who are, on the whole, larger (and therefore stronger) than me.  And genetics play their part - just doing a quick online search suggests that my weight is a good start (which, to be fair, I almost started at for this progression) and maybe up to 255 plus for 6-8 reps is about as far I can hope for ( my 5 X squat PR is 260, so there you go).

It is also important to take a moment and remind myself that the point of the exercise is not solely to lift more weight - after all, I will max out or do myself serious harm if I am not careful.  And there is a finite limit to what I am going to be able to lift (ever).

The backs of my legs are grumbling at me as I write this, obviously planning to rise up against the rest of the body tomorrow morning.  Hobbling, Ahoy.

But it is a good reminder:  if we fail to celebrate even the small accomplishments (no matter how silly) we quickly learn to stop celebrating anything at all.  And there is no quicker road to the death of joy than that.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Visit To Fry's

In the early 90's I had heard from my brother in law of a store called Fry's.  It was supposed to an amazing land of electronic joy, of computers and games and technology galore.

I made pilgrimages in the early 90's -first just visiting, and then moving there - and found that it was everything that he had said it was.  Aisles of computers and games, cordless phones, games (did I mention that) - all in the context of stores done as Aztec temples or Egyptian pyramids.  It was a place where someone who dreamed of those vaunted Macintosh games could wander to their heart's content.

Fast forward 20 years. I have reason to go into a Fry's - not any of those, but one in New Home - to buy a birthday present.  I expected to go into some kind of environment of activity - instead, I went into a retail wasteland.

Oh, the shelves were stocked.  Fuller than I recall seeing them in years.  But the actual customers in the store seemed outnumbered by the red-shirted staff personnel.  And there was an empty silence in the store, the sort of thing that makes you try to avoid meeting the eyes of any store personnel in case they latch on to you (Fry's personnel, in the very old days, had a rather bad habit of hounding customers to get credit for the sale).

I stumbled around a bit until a youngish sales clerk came over and guided me to the cell phone accessory I was looking for.  I went and waited in the checkout line - gone were the days of packed in line, looking at the snacks and small items set aside to tempt you.  The extension for the lines to loop around in the event of long lines mocked me with its emptiness, two soda coolers at the end of them suggesting that someone still maintained the vain hope that they would be used.  Behind the counter, where often in the past I had recalled a hum of activity, there was almost silence and three check out clerks and supervisor cycling people out.  Paying, I went out after my receipt marked for inspection (the first store I ever remember doing this, even before Costco).

You cannot draw lot of conclusions from a Monday afternoon at 5 PM on the health of a store or an economy, to be sure.  But what I saw there left me skeptical in the belief that the example of corporate retail I saw today was anything other than healthy - or promising for the future.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Friday, July 07, 2017

On Sin

Sin is delicious.

It is an intoxicating blend of excitement and freedom, of self-enabling action and a wanton exercise of power.  It heightens the senses even as it can dull them, grants self confidence even as it strips us of concern, empowers us while enervating others.

It is exhilarating.

Sin - at least when I think back on the many and varied applications of it in my life - is almost never something I have to have long arguments about with myself.  To my shame, few are the times that I have stood there and actively argued against myself for long periods of time.  More often than not it was a fleeting sort of hallway discussion in my mind before the baser side of me blasted out through door of my consciousness into the world.

Often I have tried to make excuses - blaming circumstances or others or some sort of physical or mental weakness that prevents me from not sinning.  It never really works quite the way I am hoping in my mind, which always tends to bring things back to the place they should be.  I prefer to justify the why, ignoring the what (specifically the "What I did") entirely.  I am usually disabused of this option rather quickly.

Sin is also both an easy and difficult thing to discuss:  easy because too often I can rattle off the most horrid of actions as if I had watched them in a character on the screen as I try to relate to others and "connect", difficult when I actually have to confess or discuss it to those whom it has harmed or injured or to whom there exist no justification for the actions.

Sin remains reliable, in at least one sense:  whether sooner or later, the results of it will always turn to ash in my hands and bitterness in my mouth.  There is scarcely anything that has come from sin in my life that has in long term brought me health, wealth, or happiness - with the very few exceptions of those things where, by the grace of God, He turned something that was very bad (evil - can we use the word evil here?) into something good.

But perhaps the saddest part of all to me is the very real sense that, just on the outside of my consciousness and barely out of my sight, sin is hovering, waiting for the least indication of self doubt or self justification to lunge in with the speed of a striking shark, attempting to push through the barrier of thought to action.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

On The Practice Of Holiness

I would argue that one of the great challenges facing the Church today is holiness.

We are, on the whole, not a holy people (unintentional pun aside).  We are commanded to be - "...you shall be holy, for I am Holy" says the Lord in Leviticus 11:44 , echoed in First Peter 1:15 "...but as He who called you is holy, be holy in all your conduct as it is written "Be holy, for I am holy."  And yet I find that in the larger circle of professing Christians there are very few that one can look at and say "That one is holy."  Conceivably this is a problem, if we are supposed to be holy in all of our conduct.

Our traditional view of holiness seems to be rooted in the concept of not doing some things and doing other things - for example, not dancing or drinking or gambling or listening to certain music and instead doing other things such as praying or alms giving or serving.  That is not to say that not dancing or drinking or gambling or listening to certain music is not a bad thing any more than doing things like praying or alms giving or serving is a good thing- but in both cases, we define holiness by the behavior we practice rather than something we are, which clearly seems implied by the text.

"Qados" (Kadosh) is the Hebrew word for "holy", describing something which was devoted or dedicated to a particular purpose - the Sabbath day is declared "qados", the people of Israel are declared "qados", the High priest is declared "qados".  The equivalent word in the Greek is "hagios" (as in Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom).

God defines himself as set apart - in His case, in nature and in being.  We cannot be "holy" in the greater sense of the word, but we can be so in the lesser sense of the word.

With this definition, I would propose that holiness as we have come to understand it takes on an entirely different meaning  Our actions do not by themselves make us holy; it is the fact of our lives and how we conduct them that does.  We traditionally understand this term in the context of the orders (priests/monks/nuns) or the pastorate where individuals devote their lives to God.  The reality of the Scriptures is that all Christians are to be set apart or devoted to God and His service.

But practically speaking, what does holiness look like?  There is the rub of course; perhaps not unsurprising as we seem to have so few role models to look to.  I might suggest a few guide posts:

1)  Avoiding sin:  Think of the Old Testament sacrificial system.  What was one of the characteristics that the animal sacrifices shared?  They were to be free of blemish (check out Leviticus).  Blemish implied less than perfection - which is certainly a definition of sin.  We are to free of sin in our lives (always  work in progress of course) - not that this earns us merit but that it reflects our status as being set apart or devoted to God.

2)  A life focused on God:  When a thing was devoted to the Tabernacle and then later to the Temple, it existed at that point to serve  God:  if a pot, then a pot for ashes from the altar or boiling of the flesh of the sacrifice; if a beast of burden, then serving the priesthood.  Once something was devoted it almost was never returned to regular service.  Likewise once we make the determination to be holy our lives become set apart to serve God always.

What does this look like?  It is different for different people and I can no better define it for you than you can for I.  Paul's analogy of the body is correct:  we are all different parts and fit in differently; what is important is that we recognize that we fit into and serve the Body.

A very simple - extraordinarily simple - item would be choosing something else over God, His clear commands, or His leading. When my life becomes driven by what others think or a hobby that encompasses all my time or even service that is not dedicated to God, I am choosing something else over Him.

3)  Doing God's Work and Will  - A pastor of days gone by defined holiness as "Thinking what God thinks and willing what God wills."  There may be many things that seem murky or hidden to us about God - but there are plenty of places where He is crystal clear on actions or understandings.  And those actions or understandings, applied in our lives, will become principles which may inform some of the less clear areas for us.  In this sense God is not some kind of cruel author that expects us to follow something that He has hidden away; He has revealed much but we treat them as suggestions rather than as the commands that someone that is devoted or set apart would do.

I wish I could tell you I was better at this than I was - but I struggle too often with lists of do's and do not's as if somehow that would advance my cause, or end up in a sort of bland transcendent stoicism that is not bothered by the life around it.  But holiness is not that either:  it is passionately alive and involved with every square inch of life around it, even in the pain and rejection and frustration because it belongs to God.

But let us not have any illusion that this holiness, were we to practice it, would inherently lead to any sort of better of the Church or even our own well being.  Like the items devoted to Temple service, their whole existence was to point to and serve their Creator.  Any growth we see or improvement we realize is purely the grace of God, not a payment on a debt we have incurred in our imagination  To the Devoted, their life is only ever about the One they serve, not themselves.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Second Great Age of Evangelism of the West?

Among the books I read during my vacation was Praying Hyde by Basil Miller,  a biography of  John Hyde (1865--1912), a missionary to India who became known as "Praying" Hyde due to amount of and power of his prayers.  He is associated with the Sialkot Revival (1905-1911).

Missionary biographies always stun and shame me:  stun me due to the commitment they bear for sharing the Word of God; shame me because I am so weak in my own commitment to the same.

And then I came across an article saying that 51% of Canadians believe religion to more harmful than good,  Which then got me thinking to the current status of Christianity in Europe (circa 2015) and the US.

Which then got me to thinking:  could not be the great Second Age of Evangelism of the West?

The Christian Church - at least in the West - is badly in need of a great revival (my opinion of course, but I would challenge you on it).  The Church - as a whole - has either sought to become culturally relevant to the point that it is not longer Christian or Orthodox to the point that we have created "cultural Christians", who know the Scriptures (possibly) but not the power therein.  It has become just another thing that we do in our lives, like working out or a club or practice.

Yes, I am aware that the culture is opposed to us, but this fact is largely of our own doing.  We have chosen to ignore God's Word and God's Power and God's Scripture and then find ourselves shocked when our churches are word-less and powerless and fading.  We accept the basic tenant of Viktor Frankl - that with a why, anything is bearable - but refuse to live out the Why of faith, believing that somehow lesser that the whys of the world.  We have failed to actually act as if Christ was who He claims to be - The Son of God, the Ruler of this world - and live in light of that.

In other words, we have a lot of work to do.

But that does not mean that we should stop doing the other work either - "Go and make disciples of all the Nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" was the command of the risen Christ to his disciples (Matthew 28:19).

When the Church thinks of missions, it is almost always to parts of the Third World - Latin America, or Africa, or parts of Asia.  And admittedly, the need is great.  But is it cultural arrogance that prevents us from seeing that the First World is also heavy and golden, ripe for harvest?

It is not enough to say this, or to even start to do this of course, without prayer - which was Praying Hyde's great secret weapon in his missionary efforts. "Give me souls or I die" he cried out to the Father.  And so, I have begun to pray every day for revival specifically in the West, of a great movement to replant vibrant churches throughout the West.  It is not that such a thing will happen without anyone doing the work, of course - but without the prayers, nothing will happen.

The harvest, said Christ, is plentiful but the harvesters are few.  He reminded us specifically to pray to the Father to send laborers into His harvest.


Tuesday, July 04, 2017

July 4 2017 - The Declaration of Independence

 The Declaration of Independence

The Annual Post.  Because it matters.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained, and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the  conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
Source: The Pennsylvania Packet, July 8, 1776

Monday, July 03, 2017

Letter To A Young Farmer: A Review

It is seldom that one gets to read a writer's last work that they consciously realize is their last work.  Writers, like most of us, are no more aware of the running sands through hourglass; death finds us in the middle of our lives and that is that.  It is seldom that a writer constructs a work in the shadow of their impending death.

Such is Letter to a Young Farmer by Gene Logsdon.  Logsdon, who has been a writer on agricultural matters and the back to the land movement for many years, died in May 2016, some weeks after this book was completed. His output has been prodigious over the years (28 books listed in the fly page of this book) and his writing is only ever an exercise in excellence.  He one part farmer, one part social revolutionary, and one part philosopher, wrapped up in a package of the individual who has demonstrated that they believe in what they preach and write by actually doing it.

I bought the book but put off reading for some months, afraid that to finish the book would the voice of one I respect for the last time.  I have valued everything written by Logsdon since I first picked him up in 2000.  He was, in all manners of the word, an encourager:  he saw a future of small farming and localism and believed that anyone could do it.

I was warned previously that the book was not really a "letter", but rather a series of essays (as Logsdon often did) across a variety of subjects.  Here one will find a non-definition of farming ("No Such Thing as "The American Farmer""), practical application (Farming is All About Money, Even When It Isn't", "Hauling Livestock:  The Ultimate Test of Your Framing Mettle"), and a sense of fun "The Cow Stable:  Health Spa of the Future", "The Invasion of the Paranoids").  A total of 25 essays in all, written with his usual wit and humor and cantankerous challenging of the status quo.

Obviously not all of these were written at once, and I would be curious to know which ones were done later and which ones were earlier.  Which one, of all of them, was the last one he touched.

If I had a quibble, it would be with the order.  The last essay, "In Praise of Rural Simplicity (Whatever That Is)", is a logical title for the last words Logsdon leaves for us.  I would argue that it was not the best essay though; for my money "The Homebodies", an essay on why farmers tend not to travel or leave their farms was a great deal more moving and (at least to my thinking) a better way to end:  because in the end, Gene was the ultimate homebody, dying  close to the place were he was born and raised.

But that is a passing complaint, and one of preference, not content (De mortuis nihil non est nissi bonum, Speak nothing but good of the dead).  The book is a worthy conclusion to a worthy author and their worthy life that he lead.  The only unfortunate thing about the book is reading the last word and knowing that this was the last new thing I will read from Logsdon's hand.

They, being dead, yet speak.

Friday, June 30, 2017

On Byzantium II

So last week I posted about my reading of A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich as I went about acquainting myself with the history of Byzantium, a subject which I knew things around but not necessarily specifically about.  I had reached just before the Fourth Crusade (1204) in which Byzantium was sacked by the Venetians and French Crusaders - and from which Byzantium never recovered.

Upon finishing the book, there are a few more observations about why Byzantium failed.

1)  A Loss of Land:  After the battle of Manzikert in 1074, Byzantium started to lose land in Asia Minor (now Turkey) which was the heart of its yeoman farmer population.  With a loss of population came both a loss of revenue and goods but also a loss of soldiers to enroll in her armies.  The loss of wealth meant that the Byzantines were at best at the edge of financial ruin, preserved only by thrifty emperors (which always seemed to be followed by spendthrifts).  The loss of population meant Byzantine armies became manned less and less by citizens and more and more by allies and mercenaries.

2)  A Loss of Commerce:  Byzantine commerce was controlled by the government to a large extent.  As times got more difficult in the 1100's and following, the Empire began to sign treaties - with Pisa, Genoa, and Venice - to encourage the trade and goods that it was generating for itself.  This trade came at a cost:  a surrendering of certain territory and commercial taxation rights.  Thus over time, Byzantium could raise taxes on less and less of its goods as they came through commercial partners, thus giving an advantage in profit and price to the Italian city states (and ultimately discouraging its own citizens) and cutting further and further into the taxes it could raise from a dwindling population base.

3) A  Loss of Population:  By the time of the capture of Constantinople in 1453, the Byzantine Empire could only muster 4983 Greeks and less than 2000 foreigners to defend walls 14 miles long against an army of 100,000.  This, in a city that at one time had a population between 500,000 and 800,000 in the 9th and 10th Century.  There are references that near the time of the fall, large parts of the city were deserted and the city was really more of a group of smaller towns within a larger, somewhat desolate core.

4) A Loss of Belief: Ultimately, Byzantium fell because there was a loss of belief in the Byzantine Empire.  The religious heretics of the Bogomils and the Cathars that fled the Empire found that life under the Turks was not that bad; as time went on, the hatred of the Latins (Rome) had many in the Empire saying "Better the turban than the crown" or "Better submission to the Turks than to the Roman Catholic Church".  At that point all was lost:  after all, submission to one or the other means that independence has been ruled out.

I would highly recommend the book - if that for no other reason, perhaps more than any other Empire or country of the Middle Ages, Byzantium can speak to 21 Century American in bold and vivid colors.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ranch 2017

So we had a wonderful vacation last week.  Got to see lots of family, some friends and see sights both new and old.

One thing I do not think I have done in some time is show some pictures of The Ranch, the property that my parents own.  This, to me, is home.














Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Of Amazon and Whole Foods

Last week it was announced that Amazon is buying Whole Foods.

How this works confuses me.  It represents two ends of a spectrum:  on one end Amazon, a company that has a market model of providing goods as quickly as possible and at the lowest price as possible, a company that is on the forefront of automation and reducing the number of human employees. On the other hand Whole Foods, a company that unashamedly is at the top end of the cost chain in grocery stores and prides itself on paying top of the line for its employees and its suppliers.

The argument runs that this is the way that Amazon can entire into the consumer food market in a way that it has not been able to up to this point (Whole Foods has 431 stores as of June 2017 in the US, Canada and the UK), making it almost an instant competitor with current regional grocery changes.  The thought is that it will also allow it to use its model of quick delivery and lower prices to actually reach the point where groceries are as ordered on-line and delivered as they are purchase in store (and even then, the potential of enabling smart phone purchase technology).

Full Disclosure:  I have used both services. Amazon, of course, for purchasing mostly books (but other things as well).  Shopping is quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive and it all gets delivered to my door.  I have also been to Whole Foods numerous times - but more as a sort of outing than a regular shopping stop (as the prices really are too much to afford for someone on our budget).  It is always a treat but always a treat which we do periodically, not regularly.

How does this end?  Not well for someone, I fear.  Either Amazon will have found out that it has purchased something it cannot absorb into its system and must operate as a totally separate entity or Whole Foods will lose the reason people shop there, becoming just another shopping experience - and one which undoubtedly will have fewer employees.

In a way it is the clash of two visions of the future, the ruthlessly efficient and cost-saving minimal employee model or the high priced service oriented socially feel good  model.

Whoever wins, I suspect I will still continue to get my groceries and my books from somewhere else.  And unfortunately, either way I expect a lot of former employees of one or the other to do the same.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Battle of Hohenfriedeberg

The Battle of Hohenfriedeberg occurred on June 4th, 1745th.  I have always enjoyed this painting of it by Carl Rochling (1855-1920) depicting The Attack of the Prussian Infantry.


Friday, June 23, 2017

On Byzantium

To fill in one of my educational voids, I have been reading A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich, which is a summary of his three volume work on Byzantium.  I have crossed Byzantium's paths numerous times through other historical studies - the Crusades, Eastern Europe, the fall of the Western Empire - but have never really studied specifically on it.

Norwich's history, which is quite well written, chronicles the empire from its founding by Constantine to its last feeble flickers in 1453.  In some ways it is hard to fathom how an empire which at one time stretched from Italy throughout Eastern Europe and North Africa and Levant had shrunk to little more than a rump in Europe just before its fall.  And Norwich covers it well, going emperor by emperor until the end (I assume - I am still just before the Fourth Crusade in 1204).

Not everything is the result of bad decisions - after all, outside events effect all of us that we did not initiate and did not control.  But like individuals, empires and states are also victims of their own self-inflicted wounds.  That I can tell to this point, there were three main ones:

1)  Internal Conflict - The Byzantine Empire, it seems was rife with rebellion and infighting, almost from the death of Constantine.  These internal rebellions inevitably weakened the state:  beyond the cost of money and politicization of sides (which often ran to violence), the internal rebellion spent the lives of the Empire's soldier's not defending itself but rather fighting with itself.  Those soldiers and the lands they were recruited from (and was lost) were missed long after the rebellions themselves had died.

2)  A Lack of Sound Fiscal Policy - The Byzantine Empire, like many other empires and states, had trouble managing it funds consistently.  Under some emperors fiscal prudence was maintained, under others all control went out the door.  And the military, which defended the Empire, was caught in the issue of either not being funded enough or trying to make up for poor funding (which over time necessitated higher and higher taxes).  It is not that they were alone in this as a medieval state - autocrats are notoriously big spenders and do not care where the money comes from - but it did ultimately create a state where no money could be spent at all without borrowing it - and all that this implies.

3)  Internal Division:  While the Church and the State were theoretically split in the Byzantine Empire, both the Church and the State meddled with each other.  From the State's side, it took sides in the religious conflicts of the day (the one in question was of Icons) - and pushed the opposing side away.  Likewise, the state acted to enforce religious purity (Bogomil and  Catharism).  What did all of this do?  Embitter and turn away citizens and future citizens from supporting the government at the very times it needed it 

Ultimately the Byzantine Empire ends with a sad sort of silent "pop", hardly befitting  its history.  In the end there were few to fight for her and her reduced size and scope made here as dependent on others to fight for her as herself.

Any and all resemblances to any current nation-states is purely coincidental...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Without

Without is a profound word.

Without love, there is hate.
Without joy, there is sorrow.
Without understanding, there is anger.
Without peace, there is war.
Without care, there is indifference.

And if without is so profound,
why are we so often without it?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Day The Christians Disappeared

And then one day, the Christians disappeared

At first it was not clear that everyone that had disappeared had that factor linking them.  It was only after the initial shock had worn off and people started to try to piece things together that the realized that all of them publicly or privately shared this as the thing that was common to all.

Initially there was a great deal of confusion:  Where did they go?  In some cases, why did they go? Holes were left in families, in friendships, in businesses, in governments.  In some churches very few people were there on Sunday; in others, it was as if nothing had happened.

What seemed to link the ones that were gone - as opposed to the others that were left -  was that they were always exclusive in their claims about how people could be saved - the "narrow" ones, the ones that always seemed against the tenor of the times, the ones that really acted as if they believed in that whole "Jesus as the Son of God" thing.

The news panels - after floating various theories about what had happened and why - eventually came to the conclusion that on the whole, this was a good thing.  So many things which had been held up  or made difficult by these people could now move forward.  Moralistic arguments about things could now easily be swept away.  And after over 2000 years, the Christian church could finally be put in the place it had really belonged, as a sort of social activity or even a belief system but without any sort of influence or power to interfere with the world as it actually was.  Finally, humanity's utopia was within its grasp.

The problem, of course, was that it did not seem to be going that way.

It is not that people did not try - indeed, at no time in human history had the ability to unite people been better.  But what those that were trying to lead found was that something seemed to be missing, a sort of sense of the common good.  People, relieved of the pressure of the moral judgments they had overtly or covertly suffered from, did not seem to be acting better - in fact, it seemed as if they were acting more selfishly than ever.  And those behaviors that were anti-societal - theft, robbery, violence - seemed to grow in intensity and occurrence, not lessen.  It was if, the self proclaimed "Christians" having left, something had left with them, something that had previously made the world work better, even for those that did not believe.

It was only at that point that some began to consider what they had actually believed.

But by then things began to work very differently.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

And We Are Off...

...on vacation, that is.

For two years in a row (unheard of in quite a while) I - we - are taking a vacation.

We will be returning home to see my family and my in-laws, friends, and old haunts.  It will be refreshing - I have not been to the Ranch in 3 years?  4?  And in many ways, that is where my heart really lies.

I am typing ahead a string of posts while I am gone, so my apologies if I am delayed in responding.  My coverage is always kind of hit and miss.

Am I hoping to accomplish anything beyond vacating while I am gone?  I am not sure.  I feel somehow disconnected, like I am doing all the "right" things but somehow the progress is not there.

And I am surely looking forward to no humidity!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Is Come


The hot sun beats down
while the plump grass shrinks in size
and trees dream of Fall.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Thought On...God's Justice

"But God's justice stands forever against the sinner in utter severity.  The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.  It hushes their fears and allows them to practice all pleasant forms of iniquity while death draws every day nearer and the command to repent goes unregarded.  As responsible moral beings we dare not so trifle with our eternal future." - A.W. Tozer, The Holiness of God

Thursday, June 15, 2017

On The Events in Virginia

I have really struggled with what to write in this post.

Part of me wants to rant about the dangers of incendiary language, of the fact that words mean things and some people mean things with their words.  The other part of me wants to try to ignore yesterday all together, to just overlook the events and continue on.

Perhaps I can split the difference by just listing a few thoughts.

1)  We need to start holding people responsible for the words they use.  In public.  And mercilessly, until people get to the point of thinking about what they say.

2)  Countries and empires tear themselves apart from the inside long before they are torn apart from the outside.

3)  The longer we as a country pretend that there is not a rhetorical and political aspect to the growing violence, the deeper the divisions grow.  I can almost hear them deepening as I write.

4)  Most times where civil wars start is often unclear.  When they end seldom is.

5)  Seldom do the initiators of such events look back after time and think 'That was a pretty good idea."  More often, they are looking at the smoldering ruin of what their society once was.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

On Modern and Old Books

Glen's comment of two days ago got me thinking:  "I used to be a voracious reader.  Nowadays - I haven't bought a book in years.  I wonder if it's the same stuff we find objectionable."  It got me to thinking about books.

It occurs to me that most books are a reflection of the time and age in which they were written. I suspect that for many - who have not read anything more than what is currently listed as a best seller or what is recommended in a media magazine - lack the sort of historical span to get a perspective on this.

That said, perhaps that is why (on the whole) I tend to prefer older books.  They were written in a different time - a time that I (for the most part) did not live in but have enough of a thread of memory and familiarity to recognize and enjoy.  They (on the whole) eschewed graphic violence and long steamy sexual passages and the rather lamentable use of cursing - let alone whatever the latest social trends are.

I suppose in some fashion this is true of any age, and to think otherwise is foolishness.  It also explains the existence and continued success of the used book store in the face of the faceless Internet Book Selling Monolith.

As I have written before, most of my fiction used to revolve around Science Fiction and Fantasy - until these became less about the act of flight of fancy and more about making them "real" (see two paragraphs up).  Suddenly it was not fantasy or science fiction, a world of medieval magic or far off stars:  it was our world, with special effects, most often with a point somewhere trying to be made.

My bent now is largely history (and even here you have to be careful - I like history, not someone's opinion of history), specific works around projects I am interested in (gardening, livestock etc.) self improvement books, and the Classics (by Classics I mean literature from largely before 1900).  I do scan the Science Fiction and Fantasy shelves for authors I know and trust, but have found myself steering farther and farther away from such authors.

Why?  Like many other things, I have found that my time is limited.  And I do not really have time to engage in reading something that is A)  Not Useful and B) Not Entertaining.

Am I missing out on some modern classics?  Undoubtedly - although I treat this much the same as I treat most movies in the theater now: at some point they will show up on a streaming service and I can watch them then (funny story - I do not end up seeing most of those either:  Not Useful, Not Entertaining.

But even in the areas I have chosen to read, there are still far more books than I will ever read in this lifetime. Might as well spend the time on things I know and like instead of risk it on that which may be highly objectionable.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Zombies and Earthquakes and The End: Oh My!

So in a fit of indulgence, I have been watching some zombie movies.  Which made me think of all the apocalyptic sorts of movies and books I have seen and read over the years.

Oddly enough, it does not really matter how the world "ends - be it by alien invasion, natural disasters, zombies, economic collapse, or just good old armed conflict.  Every one - every darn one - of the presentations of these events are largely the same.  That is to say, pretty much disastrous for everyone.

Without fail, not one - zilch - of these visions of the future ends with anyone or any civilization being in a better state than it is now.  In fact, depending on your choice of world ending events, the odds are pretty small anyone makes it as all - zombies, it seems, can run much more quickly than they did in the old days and societies tend to break down much faster than they used to.  In not one of these dystopian visions - even something as benign as The Running Man - does society change for the better.

Yet for most, they miss the lesson of the entertainment.

Buried in the midst of all these disasters is a crucial message:  civilized society is a fragile thing.  Any sort of significant disruption has impacts which can quickly escalate into a situation that creates real harm and lasting damage to the social structure.

We see natural and man-made disasters (a.k.a war) now, but even these in all their shock and rawness are mitigated simply by the fact that somewhere, there is still a civilized world to watch and give aid.  Imagine a situation where these things happen - and instead of ships and helicopters and trucks bringing aid, there is nothing but the local resources available.

And yet millions - maybe billions? - continue to exist as if such things never occur - and could never occur.

A short-sightedness has infected much of the world, a short-sightedness that says that we are on a continuing slope upward, ever progressing to a utopia that lies just beyond our reach.  To suggest otherwise - that perhaps we are not so much on a slope as on a parabola - is considered an odd affection at best, dangerous at worst.  But what does it say about ourselves that we constantly entertain ourselves with  a subject that in some fashion, has all too real a chance of occurring - and yet treat it as if such things are never to occur?

We believe that between us and such a future lies a floor of concreted.  How shocking for so many when one day the discover it was never more than a thin layer of ice that has begun to melt.

Monday, June 12, 2017

On Returning A Book

Yesterday I did something that I have not done in a very long time:  I returned a unread book.

It was not even in my book.  It was one that Nighean Dhonn had purchased two weeks ago.

We were at the look almost large chain used book store in our area, loading up for summer and she walks up with it.  "This is the author that writes the book series I read" she said. I glanced at the cover rather quickly and quickly read the summary flap.  It seemed innocuous enough.

Only later did I think to actually look the book up.  And was, frankly somewhat horrified.  Very different from the the books that the author has written.  The thing that pushed me over the edge was the comment by the author in the end that "And parents, do not worry about the swear words - your kids already know them."

I made this mistake once long ago with Nighean Gheal, when, foolishly only thinking it was about dogs, let her read Marley and Me.  It did involve dogs - and a lot of other things as well, things that required explanation.  Some things, once done, cannot be undone.

As I went back and forth about this book, I suddenly took a look at my own shelf and realized I was in the same position: I had some things there that while not "horrible", were certainly not the sorts of things that I probably needed to have on my shelf.  Not that they were not well written books - in some cases they were. But that had parts in them, bits that were not within realm of what I hold as my Christian beliefs.  As a wise man once told me, putting sewage in a cookie does not make the sewage anything other than what it is.

And so I went in and returned the book and got a gift card.  My reasoning (I was honest about that) was apparently acceptable.  I gave it to Nighean Dhonn, explained my reasoning, and gave her the card.  It seemed like an acceptable explanation to her as well.

I know, I know - I ultimately cannot keep the world out.  And I am realistic that the probably are exposed to far more than I care to imagine.  But it seems to me that just blandly turning a blind eye is not acceptable in my responsibility as a parent - nor, it turns out, even blandly turning a blind eye on myself.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Task Tracking And Time Investment

So in reading a recent book purchase (The Art of Persistence by Michal Stawicki - well worth your time)  I was introduced to an application called Coachme.com).

The application is a tool for tracking activities on goals - essentially every time "check-in" you get a cute little fireworks display and a happy e-mail the next day telling you how many days you are on a streak for this particular activity.  And best of all, it is free.

I have been using the program for about three weeks now and can say it has made a significant difference in my life.  One would not think that a small fireworks display on a phone screen and learning you are on a 20 day streak would be all that much incentive to continue to do things, but it really has been.  For those activities I selected, I find that I make an effort to accomplish them every day so that I do not "break" my streak.

However, it is also been an interesting learning experience as well.

Over the course of the initial two weeks, I set up 8 things I wanted to do - learning a foreign language (Japan 2018!), not biting my names (a 45 year perennial), martial arts training (Iai), practicing a musical instrument (harp), reading (I love to read but found I was making no time), running (which has fallen off over the last year for some reason), writing (another book - not the blog, that is pretty established now) and a nutritional plan.

What I have found is even the daily reminder, not everything is getting done.

For some activities -  language, harp, Iai, nail biting, and reading - it is.  And that incentive to "check the box" means that I have made peace with the fact that even if I do something for a short period of time, I am doing it.  No, I will not progress in it as quickly, but at least it will get done.  But for other activities - running, writing, and diet - the activity is slim or not at all.  Why is this - lack of commitment, lack of desire?  I am not sure, as in theory I thought these were important things to accomplish as well.  Now I am having to consider if they really are.

The other thing that this has brought up - and may indicate - is that I have reached the amount of time in a day I have to give to these things.

Oh, I could always use my time a little more efficiently.  We all could.  At the same time, there does come a point where if we schedule everything in, we leave no space around edges for the impromptu items or the things we just like to do that may not "contribute" to our lives but are important, like laughing with everyone over a Phineas and Ferb episode or catching up on my favorite blogs or even just rabbit time.

I do not know that I have found that balance yet (and let us be honest - this now also highlights the amount of time I am currently spending in my career, which is necessary a lot of time committed to a single activity).  But beyond just making sure I am doing things, this whole exercise has been to highlight very clearly how and what I spend my time on - and if those are good investments.

Friday, June 09, 2017

An Empty Vessel

"Behold Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.  My Lord, fill it.  I am weak in the faith, strengthen Thou me.  I am cold in love; warm me make me fervent  that my love may go out to my neighbor.  I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust Thee altogether.  O Lord, help me.  Strengthen my faith and trust  in Thee.  In Thee  I have sealed the treasures of all I have.  I am poor; Thou art rich  and didst come to be merciful to the poor.  I am a sinner; Thou art upright.  With me there is an abundance of sin; in Thee is the fullness of righteousness.  Therefore, I will remain with Thee of whom I can receive but to whom I may not give.  Amen.

- Martin Luther

Thursday, June 08, 2017

On Not Becoming A Paleontologist

My very first career - decided upon as of 8 years old - was to be a paleontologist.

I loved dinosaurs.  I had a fairly large collection of them that I would arrange on my fabulous cave playset (purchased from Sears and Roebuck) in various poses and forms - the old style ones that had only plastic colors (blue stegosauri, brown T. Rexs).  I had almost all the dinosaur models from Aurora.  I had several books that I read and re-read.  I wrote stories about them, developed narratives for them as they marched across the plastic sheet with ponds and trees and up over the plastic cliffs.

Frankly, I am not quite sure which this career field fell out of favor.  I want to say it was by the time I entered high school for reasons I cannot fully appreciate - after all, it is not like I ever came up with a better career path (to this day).  Perhaps I just got bored with them and moved on to other things - now that I think about it, this was about the time that Role Playing Games entered my consciousness.  Somehow in the longer run, I wonder if this was the better choice.

Would I have been happy with a life as a paleontologist? Oh, probably not.  The career field is pretty limited and it involves either a lot of begging for funding or working for low wages.  But if I think about it there is plenty that I might have like as well:  doing something I found engaging, traveling to desolate places and spending weeks away from .

I still have my original dinosaurs tucked away in a box - they have served me and served my children and hopefully will someday serve my grandchildren. I am sure that now they have some small monetary value (simply from the virtue of being old) but I will probably never part with them - not just from the fact that they have nostalgic value but for the fact that in some small way, they started me down the path of imagination and learning that I have continued with to this day.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

A Rabbit Cleaning

One of the greater pleasures in life is watching a rabbit clean itself.

Rabbits are actually somewhat fastidious, somewhat like cats - and like to keep themselves just as clean.  Given the opportunity, they will lick their paws and then scrub their faces or clean themselves by licking away at their fur.

As I write this, Ibun is next to me on the chair, three feet on the ground and one in the air as he vigorously works away at his right hind foot cleaning a bit, then looking at me, then cleaning a bit more.  It is a genuine pleasure to watch him diligently work away at washing himself, listening to the sounds of his tongue and his teeth digging in as he makes his black and white fur presentable.

All of the pleasure and joy for the cost of a little food, some hay, and pellets to change the litter box.  What could be an ultimately cheaper source of joy?




Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Overwhelmed By Inputs

Have you ever reached a point where you are so overwhelmed by inputs that you can scarcely make sense of it all?

This is what the past week has felt like to me.  Between personal life - Nighean Gheal graduating from high school - and a series of national and world events that just in a six month period would have left one's breath taken away, let alone a week - it feels as if the whole world is simply accelerating.

Towards what?  I wish I had a better - or perhaps more correctly said, a happier - sense of it all.  But all I can see, except for a few glimmers  of light (like graduations, for example) is a sort of endless, mind numbing, overloaded darkness.

It is not that it is especially depressing - perhaps simply from the fact that even depression feels like more of an organized thought pattern than I can muster at the moment.  It is more of a sense of events moving faster than I can make sense of them.

Unchecked, this sort of thing can lead to madness.  Too many what ifs and might bes to fully comprehend, a swirling vortex of possibilities that lead to nowhere particularly welcoming. It is like H.P. Lovecraft's fictional Necrononicon by Abdul Alhazred, purported to drive anyone who dared to plumb its depths mad.

Which is why, I suppose, the simples things of my life - rabbits and gardens and harps and books and even Iai - have a power far beyond their humble activities.  They allow one to make sense of one's world in the small, still areas of dappled sunlight amidst the clouds, the quiet sense of something that is useful and good simply in its execution.

True, a rabbit will never avert the end of the world and most gardens are a far cry from the sort of thing that one might actually need if things were to go badly - but honestly, in the event such things were to happen what would I remember more:  the violence and tragedy of the world's events or the quiet sound of a rabbit eating hay?

Monday, June 05, 2017

Lost?

Did you ever feel as if
you lost your way,
that somehow there was 
an exit missed,
a path not taken,
a road not traveled?

It is not the road you are on
is bad;
it is just that it feels 
slightly wrong,
a territory that should be
more familiar than it is.

Most, I suspect, make a peace
with the situation, 
an admission that this 
is not be the best of all possible worlds
but rather the best of the available words.

But even in my acceptance
I keep looking for exits
that I have long ago passed
never to return,
or see the tops of hills through which
I sense the road not traveled runs

Friday, June 02, 2017

Early June

Green grass and brown hares,
Heat pregnant with almost-rain:
Summer has arrived.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Esau's Birthright

"Now Jacob cooked a stew, and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary.  And Esau said to Jacob 'Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.'  Therefore his name was called Edom.

But Jacob said 'Sell me your birthright as of this day.'

And Esau said 'Look, I am about to die, so what is this birthright to me?'

Then Jacob said 'Sear to me as of this day.'

So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.  And Jacob gave Esau bread and a stew of lentils, then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way.  Thus Esau despised his birthright." - Genesis 25:  29-34

You may be more familiar with the more famous story of Jacob taking Esau's birthright in Genesis 27, where Jacob disguises himself as his brother to receive the blessing of the first born.  But that is really just the working out of this event back in Genesis 25, where Esau gives his birthright away for "a mess of pottage" (as the old King James version says).  

It all seems rather ridiculous, does it not?  Isaac their father was a successful herder and rich in that culture and the birthright was a double portion of all that Isaac had.  And yet Esau just gives it all away - flippantly it seems - because in what seems only like an exercise in the overdramatic he believes he "is about to die".  Really, it just sounds a bit of laziness on Esau's part - and after all, one cannot just lose his birthright over lentils (no matter how delicious)?

But it can - and did happen.  Esau's birthright was given to Jacob (who, for the record, insisted on getting it the wrong way, thus ensuring a rather long and painful life instead of trusting God's timing).

We may laugh at this of course, think it silly or foolish and by all means a waste - and thereby miss the lesson.  Because more often than not, we are just as guilty.

How often have we thrown away our own "birthright" - the good things that God had in store for us - because of laziness or impatience or even simple hunger?  How often have we jokingly let go of something that was meant to be a thing of real value - only to discover after the fact that the joke was really on us, that the thing we had surrender in our flippancy was really and truly gone? How often have we spurned what we were offered as a long term gift for which we had to be patient in exchange for a one time meal of lentils and bread?

Perhaps more often than not it is not that God did not hear and answer our prayers or pleadings; it is that we pray and plead with bowl in one hand and crumbs on our face, wondering where God's promised gifts are when in fact we had already surrendered any right we had to them.

     

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Heavenly Silence

I wonder how much silence we will enjoy in Heaven.

Heaven is portrayed - or at least we like to portray it - as a place of sound, of praise and adoration (and it is).  But interestingly, we as humans often seem to feel that God speaks to us in the silent places, in the quiet between the noise.

People far more learned than myself have commented that as a society, we have continued to raise noise to a level until it is virtually impossible to get away from it.  Which, if you think about it, is true:  most people turn on the radio when the get into the car or plug in their heads when they go for a walk or to work out or ride about on public transit.  We live in a world which surrounds us with noise.

Noise is not Heaven to me.  Noise is filler.  Noise is an interruption.  Noise is something to use when I specifically do not want to hear from God.

To me, Heaven is silence.  Silence like I find at The Ranch, where literally one can hear is the wind  through the trees.  Silence like I remember one night at 13 in Colorado, tucked into a tent reading John Carter and looking up at the stars.  Silence when I sit with the rabbits and listen to their almost imperceptible communication.  Silence when I watch bees work quietly.

It is not that I praise God any the less because of the silence - indeed I hear Him more.  Arguably I do need to hear Him more - but then again, so does the world around me as well.

Revelation is filled with great hosts singing aloud (and if you have been part of a great host singing aloud, you know the headiness it encompasses -imagine doing it for the King of The Universe!).  But I wonder if as well, room will be made for those that find their praise and closeness to God as much in silence as they do in speech.

For surely if God made the words, He also made the space between the words.