Reflection


Are we always free to change?  It was argued in my Existentialism class today that no matter our past, we can always reinvent ourselves and pursue a different life.  I disagreed, however, and I have the famous Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in my corner.

Wilde was blessed with an extraordinary story telling ability.  The characters from his plays and novels leap from the page in vivid plot and description.  Oscar Wilde was known for his gits to be sure, but he was also known for his lecherous behavior which eventually led to imprisonment and disgrace before his death.

Wilde gave both personal and literary testimoy to his destructive behavior.  Shortly before his death he wrote the following words:

I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease…Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search for new sensation.  I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber, one has some day to cry aloud from the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace.

Wilde witnesses the effect that behavior has on character here.  The choices that we make today will determine what options we have in the future.  If I make bad choices, I damage my soul and distort my character.  If I continue down the wrong path long enough, I rob myself of the very freedom that I had once treasured; I will indeed cease to be the captain of my soul.  Wilde wasn’t the first to discover this truth, of course; Aristotle stated much the same thing and the principle of moral sowing and reaping is clearly taught in Scripture (Galatians 6:7).  Every decision we may effectively limits our future decisions: for good or evil.

Wilde’s literary autobiography is contained in the novella, The Picture of Dorian Gray which relates the story of an innocent young man’s descent into debauchery and self-destruction.  Throughout the story, Gray learns that he is able to take part in the vilest of behavior, yet suffer no consequences to his body or appearance; the eponymous picture suffers all of the damage.  However, Dorian eventually discovers that the picture is a representation of his own twisted soul, and at the climax of the narrative when he reveals the ruined painting to the artist who created it (just before murdering him):

“It is the face of my soul.”

“Christ! what a thing I must have worshipped! It has the eyes of a devil.”

“Each of us has heaven and hell in him, Basil,” cried Dorian
with a wild gesture of despair.

Hallward turned again to the portrait and gazed at it.
“My God! If it is true,” he exclaimed, “and this is
what you have done with your life, why, you must be worse
even than those who talk against you fancy you to be!”
He held the light up again to the canvas and examined it.
The surface seemed to be quite undisturbed and as he had left it.
It was from within, apparently, that the foulness and horror
had come. Through some strange quickening of inner life
the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away.
The rotting of a corpse in a watery grave was not
so fearful.

His hand shook, and the candle fell from its socket on the floor
and lay there sputtering. He placed his foot on it and put it out.
Then he flung himself into the rickety chair that was standing by
the table and buried his face in his hands.

“Good God, Dorian, what a lesson! What an awful lesson!”
There was no answer, but he could hear the young man
sobbing at the window. “Pray, Dorian, pray,” he murmured.
“What is it that one was taught to say in one’s boyhood?
‘Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins.
Wash away our iniquities.’ Let us say that together.
The prayer of your pride has been answered. The prayer of your
repentance will be answered also. I worshipped you too much.
I am punished for it. You worshipped yourself too much. We are
both punished.”

Dorian Gray turned slowly around and looked at him with tear-dimmed eyes.
“It is too late, Basil,” he faltered.

“It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we
cannot remember a prayer. Isn’t there a verse somewhere,
‘Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white
as snow’?”

“Those words mean nothing to me now.”

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. (Hosea 8:7)

 

I recently noticed that the popular NBC TV show, Heroes, is boasting a new series with the promo “In every hero there could be a villain”.  It seems to be centered around the idea that the heroes are also the villains at different times throughout the drama.  I think I can relate.  But I would argue that in every hero there IS a villain.

I have been a believer in Jesus Christ since I was five years of age.  I was dramatically converted from a life of thumb-sucking and temper tantrums, I like to say.  In reality, I know I was “born from above,” as John chapter 3 puts it, because of the warfare that has raged in my soul ever since, among other reasons.  Recently, I have felt frustrated with some of the ways that I have been tempted and, at times, given in to my old nature, the sinful power in me, the “villain” that opposes everything I want to be for God.  I’ve been asking myself alot of questions.  Questions like:

Where does my desire to tear down another person in order to build myself up come from?

Why do I worry about the future when I am promised my needs will be cared for forever? 

What keeps me from sharing God’s truth to my aquaintances every chance I get? 

Why do I care so much about my own comfort? 

Why do I fear for my own loss when everything that really matters I already have, and that which I have I can never lose?

Why do I lose my joy?  How can I fix my eyes on any earthly situation for more than a moment when I could be gazing (spiritually) into the eyes of my Redeemer?

How can I neglect to truly pray when I know that all that I could ever want is found in the whisper of His name?

Why do I choose to feed my physical thirst and neglect feeding my spiritual thirst when my appetite for the former is never quenched, but the latter springs up unto life eternal? 

How is it that I can sin and not shed a single tear when Jesus Christ wept over my sin in the Garden the night before it cost Him His life?

Why do I no longer tremble when I think of how close I came to spending all of forever in eternal damnation and punishment?

How can I forget so easily the agony of that night in the garden or in Pilate’s palace?  How is it that Golgotha slips so quickly from my mind?

Why does my anger rise up within me when I am ridiculed – do I not deserve every word against me and more?

How can I choose the evening sitcom over bedside prayers with my children?

How can I allow images of women other than my wife to linger in my mind?

What causes me to desire to deceive or withhold information in order to be praised by my peers or obtain a larger paycheck?

Why do I choose to stay in bed some mornings when I could be exploring the riches of the Holy Scriptures?

Why do I quickly question and want to rebel in my heart against any and all authority set over me regardless of who it is? 

How do I fall in love so quickly with anything and everything that tickles my fancy when it displaces my first love for my Savior? 

Why do I fail to be content when I already have everything that is good for me?

These are just a few of the questions that lately have plagued my mind.  I want to do what is right.  I want to be holy.  I get so tired some times of struggling with my self.  I see in me this law that all that I don’t want to do, that I do.  And that which I want to do, I don’t do.  What a treacherous man I am!  Who will rescue me from from this war that rages in my soul?  Thank God that I can be free through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  So with my mind I am serving this principle of Christ, but with my flesh I am serving this principle of sin.  (See Romans 7:22-25 – my own paraphrase) 

Once again, my victory over this arch enemy deep within lies in Scripture.  Romans chapter 8, verses 5,13, 14, 26 & 32 seems to spell it out.

Verse 5 teaches me to set my mind on the things of the Spirit.

Verse 13 teaches me to put to death the actions of the sinful nature (the flesh).

Verse 14 commands me to follow the Spirit.

Verses 26 & 32 prompt me to pray for the victory.

Can it really be that simple?  Yes, I think it can be.  Has God’s will ever been hard to understand?  The difficulty is in obeying these simple commands daily.  This battle that I face every day is won by following these four commands.  When I keep my mind on spiritual matters (the Word of God) through memorizing, meditating and mentioning (Psalm 119:11 & Joshua 1:8) it consistently, I have obeyed the first command.  But I have only begun the battle.  When I refuse to obey the desires of my sinful nature, I have gained another part of the victory. 

Thirdly, I must follow the Spirit of God.  “Follower” is a synonym with “disciple”  from which we get the word discipline.  We must discipline ourselves to follow the new law of the Spirit.  Over 1000 commands are given in the new testament and by God’s grace, we are to follow them.  Not as legalists trying to obtain God’s favor, but as children seeking to please Him who has made us accepted in the beloved.  But, even this is futile if we fail to follow verses 26 & 32. 

It is only when I add quality time before the throne of God, allowing the Spirit to pray through me in groanings that often cannot even be uttered, that I ensure I have done my part and have been victorious.  Yes, and I know that I am victorious over this principle of sin because I am more than a conqueror through him that loved me and that predestined me to be conformed to the image of his Son.  (Romans 8:30 & 37)

Praise God for the victory that I have over the villain inside me when I simply trust and obey the truths of His word!   And I don’t even need to watch the TV show.

 I Think About These Things… 

The Mayan Long Count Calendar ends December 21, 2012.  Why is this significant?  I decided to research this event and found the following:

 Is there something significant we should know about the Winter Solstice date of December 21, 2012? Yes. On this day a rare astronomical and Mayan mythical event occurs. In astronomic terms, the Sun conjuncts the intersection of the Milky Way and the plane of the ecliptic. The Milky Way, as most of us know, extends in a general north-south direction in the night sky. The plane of the ecliptic is the track the Sun, Moon, planets and stars appear to travel in the sky, from east to west. It intersects the Milky Way at a 60 degree angle near the constellation Sagittarius.

The cosmic cross formed by the intersecting Milky Way and plane of the ecliptic was called the Sacred Tree by the Maya. The trunk of the tree, the Axis Mundi, is the Milky Way, and the main branch intersecting the tree is the plane of the ecliptic. Mythically, at sunrise on December 21, 2012, the Sun – our Father – rises to conjoin the center of the Sacred Tree, the World Tree, the Tree of Life..

This rare astronomical event, foretold in the Mayan creation story of the Hero Twins, and calculated empirically by them, will happen for many of us in our lifetime. The Sun has not conjoined the Milky Way and the plane of the ecliptic since some 25,800 years ago, long before the Mayans arrived on the scene and long before their predecessors the Olmecs arrived. What does this mean?

Due to a phenomenon called the precession of the equinoxes, caused by the Earth’s wobble that lasts almost 26,000 years, the apparent location of the Winter Solstice sunrise has been ever so slowly moving toward the Galactic Center. Precession may be understood by watching a spinning top. Over many revolutions the top will rise and dip on its axis, not unlike how the Earth does over an extremely long period of time. One complete rise and dip constitutes the cycle of precession.

The Mayans noticed the relative slippage of the positions of stars in the night sky over long periods of observation, indicative of precession, and foretold this great coming attraction. By using an invention called the Long Count, the Mayans fast-forwarded to anchor December 21, 2012 as the end of their Great Cycle and then counted backwards to decide where the calendar would begin. Thus the Great Cycle we are currently in began on August 11, 3114 B.C. But there’s more.

The Great Cycle, lasting 1,872,000 days and equivalent to 5,125.36 years, is but one fifth of the Great Cycle, known scientifically as the Great Year or the Platonic Year – the length of the precession of the equinoxes. To use a metaphor from the modern industrial world, on Winter Solstice A.D. 2012 it is as if the Giant Odometer of Humanity on Earth hits 100,000 miles and all the cycles big and small turn over to begin anew. The present world age will end and a new world age will begin.

Over a year’s time the Sun transits through the twelve houses of the zodiac. Many of us know this by what “Sun sign” is associated with our birthday. Upping the scale to the Platonic Year – the 26,000 year long cycle – we are shifting, astrologically, from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The Mayan calendar does not really “end” in 2012, but rather, all the cycles turn over and start again, vibrating to a new era. It is as if humanity and the Earth will graduate in the eyes of the Father Sun and Grandmother Milky Way.[1] 

Ok, but it’s only 2008.  What is happening closer to today?  Let’s see, by law all analog broadcast television has to be digital by February 17, 2009.  On February 17, 2009 all full-power broadcast television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting on analog airwaves and begin broadcasting only in digital. Digital broadcasting will allow stations to offer improved picture and sound quality and additional channels“.[2] 

The countdown has begun.  I wonder why February 17th was chosen?  Maybe it has to do with Michael Jordan and Paris Hilton’s birthdays?  Or Geronimo died on this date in 1909?  The odds on favorite has to be,  Pope Pious the VII declaring Saint Clare of Assisi the patron saint of television on that date in 1958?[3]   

Many have questioned why conversion to digital is necessary.  According to www.dtv.gov congress decided dtv is necessary.  (strike one: if congress thinks it’s a good thing  hold on to your wallets.)   The DTV booklet on their site such a move is necessary to free up limited bandwidth for public emergency services usage (or so the argument goes) and that is a good thing but they attached a glaring rider… and new wireless services, such as wireless broadband.” [4] 

 So who benefits?  I am not naïve enough to believe the government is doing this on my behalf, for my benefit. Why is Congress so Gung-Ho about the public viewing DTV and HD programming?  That is another thing that has bugged me for years… why do they call it programming?  And what do they mean by programming?

In an Image driven culture DTV and High Def will once again draw everyone’s attention back to focus on the altar of the entertainment gods.  They were tired of their worshippers multi-tasking and wanted undivided attention .  So will DTV make programming (however you define programming) easier?

 part 2

So, what is the magic behind all this forced conversion?  I was a radio technician in the Marine Corps and I understand a little about signaling so I’ll see if I can keep this very simple.  The exact wording on this change concerns “full” power stations specifically for the February 17, 2009 change over.  What this means is the full power “analog” station uses what they call the entire envelope for a given frequency.  It takes tremendous power to drive such a signal so it is less efficient and more costly to provide such a signal.  What the FCC is doing is telling the “full power stations that they need to broadcast digitally on only a portion of the frequency band.  The full band of any given frequency has an upper portion (upper sideband) and a lower portion (lower sideband).  The current analog signal uses both the upper and the lower portions, pushing the entire width to deliver the signal.  What will now happen is the stations will use only a portion of that signal (usually lower) to deliver the signal.  It will take less power to deliver the signal and it will “free up” the rest of the frequency for other uses.  In turn it will allow the government to auction twice a$ many license$ for the $ame amount of frequencie$.   (cha-ching!)

So why won’t your TV work if the station stays on it’s current frequency when it cuts over?  Because your receiver will not be getting the entire signal it requires in order to process the picture and audio after the change over.   This will require you to either buy a set top converter (cha-ching) or a new television (cha-ching, cha-ching).

I still wonder if there is some connection between a enhanced visual image and programming?  If normal analog signal programming produced the couch potato… what will HD programming produce?  If DTV will allow multicasting on the same frequency can HD imbed subliminal images and programming that will only be able to be detected in the subconscious?  I’m not trying to be an X-files Mulder-ite here but I think about these things.

So what will 2012 bring?  Will it bring the next phase of human evolution?  When this once in 26 thousand years event takes place and the long count calendar is “reset,” will we find we are evolving to a higher plane of existence?  If it is so then it scares me to think that the next evolution of man will be built on the foundation of our current condition.   What will be the necessary agency that drives the change?  What overwhelming need will ignite the spark for change?  Will it be: Biological? Psychological?  Spiritual?  I don’t know since I don’t watch enough Oprah.  But next year I can see it in HD.  I digress.

Order cannot come from disorder, if there is no absolute standard where we can anchor ourselves morally we cannot hope for something better to arise from that which is already broken.  Without a standard there is no difference between “is” and “ought” and each one is left to practice what works for them.  Wait, we are already there aren’t we? 

It’s 2008, the Mayan long count calendar ends in 2012.  Charlie Manson will be eligible for parole in 2012.

I think about these things

 


A Message from  

 

“A number of people called our attention to this clip from the popular TV series ER. It really is amazing for secular television.The “Fair Use” law allowed us to teach from it, without violating copyright laws. It has wonderful evangelistic potential, so please use it all over the Internet.”

To me this one is worth re-posting for WOTM.

Tight SlippersJonalyn Grace Fincher’s book, Ruby Slippers, has proven to be a pioneer book on femininity and discovering the soul of a woman.  I will be reading and re-reading this to contemplate the stimulating concepts that are presented.  I must admit that my own perception of the feminine soul has been challenged.The first analogy that we examined was that of corsets. We layer our corsets so tight so that our soul begins to suffocate under the weight. Another striking analogy that Jonalyn utilizes is that of Grimm’s Cinderella.  Unlike the Disney version, Grimm paints a picture of two step-sisters who cut off parts of their flesh to fit into shoes that were not meant for them. They had normal feet but demolished what they had to try to squeeze into shoes meant for Cinderella.

“Often the roles we play are like pinching shoes. In order to fit into some role, we squeeze ourselves, contort ourselves, even cut off part of ourselves. We accept these roles, and the contortions they sometimes demand, and we call it womanly, submissive even.”

Much like the step-sisters, we slice off parts of our soul to fit into the molds that we are expected to wear. We cut away crucial parts that God intends for us to grow and use. What we don’t realize is that while we fit into the shoes, our souls are bleeding. Why do we accept this as a necessary part of femininity without going to the One who created us to find out what He expects?

God created each woman unique. When we chisel away what He gave us, we are limiting ourselves to the narrowminded expectations of society.  I think its a sad commentary that we are satisfied with the shoes that are handed to us and we struggle to fit outselves into them without asking God what He wants for us.  How unfulfilled our lives become!  We must toss the corsets and man-made shoes to lay ourselves bare before the all-loving God who knows us…really knows us. But, this is so scary! Who are we without our corsets and tight shoes? Do we dare expose ourselves for who we are? 

We must remove human opinion from its pedestal. We must regard God’s opinion as the basis for our femininity. I love how Jonalyn puts it: “It’s time to remove these stifling shoes and corsets so we can walk closer to Christ.”

Reality Television is King since the writer’s strike has deprived us of our fix of sit-coms and drama this season.  All the reality shows; such as: Smarter than a 5th Grader, Deal or No-deal, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol and a host of others; have flooded the cable and airwaves in a rush to fill the void.  

As I sat there this week watching the Biggest Loser I began to think about what I was ingesting, no, I don’t mean foodstuffs, but thoughts and ideas.  What are the bait, hook and tackle? 

The Bait:

One only has to look around at the average waistline and you can see how our lives of ease and/or materialism-induced-stress have weighed on us.   Daily you can find articles, self-help programs and a mountain of books trying to get their collective arms around the problem of obesity.  In fact we have spent so much time gathering this information that we have had little time for anything else, especially such trivial things as exercise, play, and the like.  At some point one has to conclude it is time to stop thinking about it and do something about it. (I haven’t reached this radical point, yet.)

wide-load.jpg

So here is the positive premise, if we see people engaged and succeeding in the attempt it will motivate others to get up off their lazy keesters and do likewise.  So… someone put it on television for the masses to see and hopefully emulate.  This is a good thing. 

The negative premise is that now that it is on television our voyeuristic natures kick in and we watch others play the game instead of engaging in it ourselves.  We’ll just sit here and watch how it’s done.  This is not so good. 

The Hook:

Always hidden in the bait is a hook and this is no different.  The hook is the game, who will go who will stay.  How do they accomplish this?  Ah, here is where psychology sets the hook, “challenges and temptations!”  It would truly be a boring show if all it was, was watching rollie-pollies sweat and work out (no matter how much the trainers rant and rave).   One can stand to watch only so much flabby jiggling and man boobs.  Therefore, there has to be some other angle, the hook is: game-play during temptations and challenges.   

The manipulations, the deceptions, the intrigue; and that’s just the commercials.  Raw human nature is front and center in the reality show.  Wrath, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, lust, and pride are the stars, with the players as supporting cast.  Being the voyeurs we are, we enjoy watching it in others as they stumble and fall below the yellow line.  (Yes, it is a cynical view but I believe an accurate one.  It’s like NASCAR, the reason a huge percentage watch is to see a wreck.)  In short it’s addictive

The Tackle:

All this leaves us with the final two ingredients, the weigh-in and the elimination room.  Who will be the biggest loser this week?  Which team will have the greatest percentage weight loss?  Who will be exempt, who will go home?  Ooooo, I get tingly just thinking about it.  Here is the payoff for watching the sweating and the puking and the jiggling: someone is going home.  Who will it be?   

In summary I have to say that I find these reality shows entertaining on the surface but since my mind is warped and wired differently I find these same shows somewhat disturbing.  I realize it is a game, but it seems to reinforce the idea of situational ethics.  The, “I am going to do what it takes to make sure I come out the winner,” the Zen of (Donald) Trump if you will.  That may be understood to be the “American Way” but it is far from the Biblical Way.    

These shows are the very antithesis of Biblical Christianity.  They promote greed, the Bible says to give; they bank on covetousness, the Bible condemns it; they manipulate and lie to get to the next level, the Scriptures tell us to sacrifice self and put others ahead of ourselves.   Even the Golden Rule has changed from, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” to “do unto others before they do unto you.”  Each week millions tune in to get their weeks fix of existentialistic materialism and we never see that it is not only our waists that are getting thicker.  Think about it.   

Well, just thought I’d weigh in on the matter.

Photo from:http://www.dogpile.com/clickserver/_iceUrlFlag=1?rawURL=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.brainfart.org%2Fdisplay_image.asp%3Fid%3Dwide_load.jpg&0=&1=0&4=204.9.89.53&5=98.16.20.233&9=1b7e198a3cbc43cb9aafabc15f74c801&10=1&11=info.dogpl&13=search&14=372380&15=main-title&17=1&18=1&19=0&20=0&21=1&22=plwbduwW%2FgM%3D&23=0&40=MmNZ7ovFAlQMex5Go2DtCg%3D%3D&_IceUrl=true 

611ldbwioml_aa240_1.jpgI am in the process of reading Ruby Slippers by Jonalyn Grace Fincher.  The book so far is insightful and intriguing.  I was most fascinated by the introductory chapter, which delves into the dilemma of the “corsets” that we wear.

We all wear corsets. We often layer them, multiplying their effect, tightening the cords around our soul, until we look culturally appealing, Christianly appropriate, and feel wretchedly uncomfortable.

As I read this, I had to meditate on my own life. Jonalyn lists corsets that women may wear: the single corset, the sexy corset, the mother corset, the Christian wife corset, the working wife corset, and the list goes on. There are certain roles that others expect me to fulfill…the submissive wife, the doting mother, the office woman, the academic, etc.  These areas are not wrong, actually quite the opposite. The Bible commands me to be a loving and submissive wife and a good mother. Where we have seemed to miss it, is that we put on the “corset” to fit the given role because it is expected of us. We act a certain way and even speak in the tone that is expected in that role. We reduce ourselves to “act the part”. What we are actually doing is suffocating our souls.

Before God made me a wife or a working woman/college student, He made me a living soul, a female soul. In discovering who I am in Christ, I am made free and able to more completely fulfill the responsibilities He has given me. God created me with a personality, with certain gifts and talents.  So why am I content to simply wear the corsets that are assigned to me? Why are we all content to suffocate our souls?

I do not believe Jonalyn is advocating a woman (or man) freeing herself (or himself) of the commands that God has set forth. Rather I believe we have gotten our priorities skewed.  My primary responsibility as a child of God is to discover who He made me to be, and then I am able to filfill the secondary responsibilities. Rather than stuffing my soul into the wife corset, I am now able to be the wife God intends me to be.  Rather than tightening the cords to fit others’ expectations, I am free to live as Christ intends me to be.  Layering corsets stifles the soul, but Christ gives us the freedom to live as He designed us: as female (or male) souls.

Have you ever met one of those people who are great out of the gate but exiting the second turn seem to just fizzle?   Someone who is full of ideas, good ideas even, but sputters to a halt once the actual work begins?  One who can find 10,000 excuses for starting tomorrow instead of today?  No? “In that case, Hi, I’m Larry.”   (Not really but I thought it was a great line from the movie Sky High.)

I could do an entire posting on my life just using lines from movies and songs, that is sad really because I only know a few lines from books I could use.  I would have to say that I am a product of the 70’s and 80’s.  I am first generation MTV.  I remember when “Video Killed the Radio Star” was regularly played on MTV, Martha Quinn was our VJ and Dire Straits was singing “I Want My MTV.”  I remember when Madonna was just a Boy Toy Material Girl (wait nothing’s changed there) Pat Benetar, Blondie, ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Robert Palmer and a host of others whose videos told stories and captured our attention, at the distraction of things more necessary.  Leisure Suits, disco, and the Iranian Hostage debacle were some of the benchmarks of my teenage years, quite the contrast with my redneck, white socks and cowboy hat.  I’ve always been a bit of a square peg in a round hole world.  Living at the speed of MTV and never looking beyond the moment.

I cannot blame the culture I grew up in for my lack of discipline and my Doctorate in Procrastinology, that is all on me, I am a self-made man in that regard.  Instead of reading a classic book… I popped a tape in my “add on” cassette player and cranked up Waylon Jennings, Molly Hatchet, and ELO.  Instead of exercising and pursuing my love of baseball… I ended-up living out Jackson Browne’s classic, Smokin’ in the Boys Room.  Instead of disciplining myself to schoolwork and get good grades… I floated through, just getting by, living for the Heat of the Moment.  Never looking to tomorrow but was more concerned with, “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all and I want it now!”  “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!” I cried from the front seat of my friends Trans Am as we did our best Smokey and the Bandit imitation.  My life was just like that scene where the bridge was out, and being young, dumb and foolish I was going to make the attempt to jump it anyway, only to stop short not having the nerve to totally commit to full throttle breakaway.  My illusion of life being captured on Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album was just that, an illusion.  Tighter and tighter the spirals of life swirled and I did not see that mine was out of control and I was on the Eve of Destruction.

Sounds very exciting doesn’t it?  Kind of a redneck, James Bond, Joe Walsh: Life of Illusion fantasy that I wanted to live out.  Reality never came close to the grand fantasy I was living inside myself.  I was never able to live up to the person I dreamt myself to be.  “But then again, Who Does?” (had to give props to Blade Runner there, this being what, its 25th anniversary)  So, things didn’t turn out the way I planned, hmmmm actually that was the problem… I never had a plan.  Peg the volume, Fry, Walsh, and Henley are living Life in the Fast Lane at the Hotel California.  And the illusion continued.

In ’77 my world came undone when dad died.  Mom’s world crashed in on her and in a way I lost both parents that Good Friday morning.  Clarence Carter singing, Patches is a poignant memory I have of that spring.  That summer consisted of Star Wars and a massive crush on Carrie Fisher, yep that year my fantasy was to be Luke Skywalker, battling the evil Empire and flying off among the stars with the girl.  (Lucas messed up a great adolescent fantasy by making Leia, Luke’s sister… at least for all those other nerds who aren’t from West Virginia or Arkansas, kissin’ cousins don’t ya’ knowJ)  So by the time High School was over I had it in my mind that I should make my mark on the world at least by the time I turned eighteen.  Eighteen came and went so I figured fame and fortune and everything that goes with it was just around the corner by twenty.  Twenty was a bittersweet year, still had not made my fortune and the girl I figured I would one day marry started dating my best friend.  (They have been happily married for I guess as long as my wife and I have, going on twenty-one years now, and I still count them as some of my best friends.)  Later that same year I met my wife-to-be, I just didn’t know it…yet.   While she claims that after that first date and that first kiss she went home and told her momma that she had met the man she was gonna marry.  I think that was just to stroke my ego… musta’ worked cause we’ve been together for twenty-four years.(married for 21)

So, what was my point here?  I wanted to say something important about finishing what you start and having the discipline to see things to the…  

Top Ten Posts for January, 2008

Here are the Top Ten most visited posts on Quadrivium for January, 2008:

  1. Monty Python’s Parody of Knighthood (Part 1): How Monty Python and the Holy Grail humorously skewers the ideals of Arthurian chivalry.
  2. Observation: A funny essay on the art of people watching.
  3. What is Christian Art?: Is there such a thing as “Christian” art and how does one recognize it?
  4. Is Fantasy Escapism?: Is fantasy literature (LOTR, Narnia, etc.) an attempt to escape reality, or does it communicate reality better than any other genre?
  5. Stephen Pinker and the Morality of a Meat Machine: Admiring Stephen Pinker’s awesome ‘do, and examining his not-so-awesome materialistic foundation for ethics.
  6. The Economics of Art: A rejoinder to post 3 that takes a different approach to the idea of “Christian” art and the concept of ‘art’ altogether.
  7. Pinball Brain: A post that ponders the perpetually preoccupied mind and what to do about it.
  8. America the Dim-Witted: A collection of stupid warning labels…need I say more?
  9. The Conflict of Christianity and Culture: A post that examines the underlying causes of modern Christianity’s estrangement from culture.
  10. April 22: Pregnancy and childbirth…from the dad’s perspective.

Momma called the doctor and the Doctor said…

“No, OZ never did give nothin’ to the Tin Man, that didn’t, didn’t already have.”Dr. Bombay

Much like the Tin Man they found today that I do actually have a heart.  It’s right where it is supposed to be and is doing all the things it is supposed to do.  So I’m wondering if maybe I’m actually the Scarecrow, “If I only had a brain?”  Cause the thoughts that I’d be thinkin’ while-a drivin’ in ma’ Lincoln if I only had a brain… or the winning Power Ball lottery ticket from this week.

They “STILL” don’t know why my legs look like Charlie Brown’s Macy’s Day Parade balloon legs.  At this point I would consider taking a stick pin to them but what happens if they take off like a balloon.  I can see me bouncing off the walls, ceiling, taking a few laps around the ceiling fan and sputtering to a halt on the piano.  I can hear my daughter Elizabeth now, “Do it again Daddy, do it again!” 

              Technology is wonderful, I got to watch my heart in action today, amazing.  Well, I mean, I didn’t actually see my heart (that would have been messy) but I saw an image of my heart.  You know, a sonogram, just like they do with babies.  And yes, I did have her check, and no, I am not pregnant (it just looks like I am) thank you very much.  I tried to get her to make me an audio recording of that rhythm, it sounded just like conga line music… bum bum   bum bum   bum   ba!  bum bum   bum bum   bum   ba!  Wait, scratch that, I can’t dance, I’m Baptist. (And possibly a little too nerdy) So why did you email me?  What do you want?  Come on chop, chop I haven’t got all morning.  Hummm?  What’s that?  Oh!  Yea, I’m emailing you aren’t I?       

Ok, one more thing and I’ll be done. (yep, I’m Baptist alright)

When they were taking all my information they have one of those talking scales and all it said was “Uncle! Uncle!”  But they said my weight was normal… for someone 7’ 1” tall. 

Then came the questions: 

 “Do you smoke?”

            “No”

“Do you drink?”

“Is this a trick question?

“I mean do you drink alcoholic beverages?”

“No”

“Do you take drugs, illegal drugs?

“No”

“Do you exercise?”

“No, I kicked the habit years ago.”

“And it shows.”

“Thank you for noticing.”

“Hard not to, twins?

“Why yes, a boy and a girl.”

“How far along?

“Fourteen years.”

“That long?  I wouldn’t have guessed more than the second trimester.”

“Oh you mean that!”

“Yea! that!”

“I’m rather attached to that, it may not be fly but it is phat!” 

(I think I impressed her with my knowledge of pop culture terms and Ebonics.  But then again I also left an impression on the chair in which I was sitting.”uncle! uncle!”)

Say Goodnight Gracie,

“Goodnight Mrs. Calabash where ever you are!”

It was a mild September Sunday. I was languidly perusing the pages of a book when I was startled by a cry from my wife on the opposite end of the house. As I hurried to the location of the sound, she met me in the kitchen waving a small, plastic wand. “It’s positive!” she declared as she danced about the dining table. I stood there blinking as my world rolled off of its axis. There are some things for which we can never prepare ourselves; the announcement of a child is one of them.

The arrival of a pregnancy to hopeful parents brings with it a kaleidoscope of feelings. Emotion washes over you as intense and irresistible as a tidal wave.  Surges of joy and trepidation accompany moments of pride and apprehension as you begin to grapple with a new identity. Parenthood looms over you – promising, threatening, and wonderful.
As time passed I watched my wife transform into a swollen version of that person who danced around me in the kitchen (the dancing had stopped by the fifth month). Morning sickness and mood swings dominated our household as the tiny life within her asserted his presence. Books and videos on parenthood became our primary source of information and many hours were spent in breathless silence as we awaited another kick.

Six months into the pregnancy, a routine doctor’s appointment revealed that Stephanie had developed preeclampsia. This meant critically high blood pressure that was a serious danger to both Stephanie and the baby. She was placed on strict bed rest until delivery, and we were warned that the baby would probably be coming earlier than either of us expected.

And that is precisely what happened. On April 21, 2003 (just six weeks later) Stephanie was admitted into the hospital for an induced labor delivery. That night the doctor informed us that he had scheduled the delivery for the next morning and that we should try to get some sleep. My wife followed his orders; I did not.

I became intimately familiar with the ceiling of my wife’s hospital room that night as I gazed up at it, listening to the seconds tick by on my wristwatch. I was overwhelmed with a feeling strangely akin to the Christmas Eve’s of my childhood. In a matter of hours I would be a father. The thought exhilarated me and terrified me at the same time.
Sunrise came and flooded the room with light. April 22 had arrived and so had the nurses to escort my wife to the delivery room. Pain, fear, and wonder ensued and at 10:00 that morning I was handed a bundle of blankets that had a tiny face inside staring up at me. And this is the point in this narrative when words can no longer fulfill their function in conveying true meaning. At that moment I experienced such emotion that to try to describe it would only risk sentimentality.

Perhaps the only way to explain it is to say that at that moment I felt as though I were holding an extension of myself transformed into a new person.  A life that was indivisibly linked to me in its origin, yet completely individual in its actuality and potential. I was astonished by how fiercely I could love a face that I had only seen for a few moments. I wanted to tell him all of this. I wanted him to let him know how incredibly special he was; how much he had changed me. But I could not find the words and he would not have understood if I had.

This time five years ago, I was expecting our first child.  My pregnancy had been normal as I slowly watched my feet disappear under my expanding belly.  Nausea in the first trimester gave way to butterfly-like feelings in my abdomen.  What a miracle!  My body had become a home for this tiny person that I did not know yet, but whom I loved intensely. Each month ticked away with a visit to the doctor.  “All is well” was each report…that is until the first week of March. 

The week started out terribly.  I got a speeding ticket.  How could a State Trooper give me, a pregnant woman, a ticket?  Sure I was speeding, but who could blame me as distracted as I was?  It did not even bother him that I cried as I squeezed out from behind the steering wheel to find my registration.  This could not be happening, we did not need this extra expense with a baby coming.

The week only got worse.  I went to my normal check up, expecting the same “all is well” tag, but when my doctor came in,  the expression on her face spread panic through my heart. 

“What’s wrong?” I implored.  I had not even been officially checked yet.  They had only gotten my weight, blood pressure and made me pee in a cup.

“You are showing the early signs of preeclampsia, otherwise known as toxemia.” she almost seemed to whisper from the other end of a tunnel.

“What is that?  How can this be?  Things have been going so well.  What is going to happen to me and my baby?” 

“Preeclampsia is basically where your body is rejecting the baby.  Your blood pressure starts to creep up and protein shows up in your urine.  We are going to write you out of work until delivery and put you on strict bedrest.  We don’t want you to even walk outside to check the mail.  Rest, stay put as much as possible, for your sake and for the sake of your baby.”

I could not be written out of work, I had only trained my back-up for one day.  She was not prepared.  What was my boss going to say?  Josh was not with me at this visit. What would he say?  I could not even talk to him when I called, so I had to get the doctor to repeat what she had said to me.  “It’s going to be okay.” He assured me, but my emotions were telling me otherwise.

The next six weeks are kind of fuzzy to me.  People of the church fixed meals for us because if the meal planning were left to Josh, we would have cereal, Chef Boyardee and eggs everyday, although he would have meant heartily well.  I had days that I spent in fellowship with my Father and felt His love assure me that no matter what happened, this was all part of His plan.  Then I had days that I could not feel His presence and I cried…anxious over what would happen to my baby, starving for fellowship outside these four walls, and from just plain boredom (how many times can you watch the PBS lineup before getting sick of it).

Baby shower time came and I feel into deeper depression.  I could not even properly register for the things we needed and wanted.  We started the process, but had to quit because I could feel my feet swelling from the rising blood pressure.  This should not be so hard to accept; it was just a luxury and I knew our family, friends and church members would make sure we had what we needed.  But I longed for everything to be as it should have been.  Even then, God assured me that this was part of His plan.

April came before long, and the doctors had made me their test subject.  I had to do a few 24-hour urine samples and store them in our fridge, yuck!  Then on April 21st, the doctors ran several tests and sent us out to wait closeby for the results.  We headed over to Barnes & Noble to peruse their new selection of books.  After what seemed like hours, they called us to come back.  “Are you ready to have this baby?” they asked.  I had not even packed my bags yet, oh great!  “We have a room ready for you.  We will induce your labor and since you are only 3 1/2 weeks early, all should be okay.”

We got settled in our room, called the family and prepared for the night.  They gave me the medicine to induce and at 5:10am the next morning my water broke.  Luke Christopher was born at 9:09am on April 22nd, just one minute shy of a 4 hour labor.  He was amazing!  This little life that we had been praying for was finally visible!   

Luke had his normal up’s-and-down’s as an infant.  Maybe a few more down’s because his lungs were a little underdeveloped, but now he is a healthy, happy, lively little boy.  I look back on those days and I can see how God protected us, provided for us and used it all to teach me about His faithfulness and His friendship.  All of this was in His plan.

Wonder

Forty dollars is far too much to pay to look at fish.  But I bought tickets anyway to the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies for me and my wife.  I consoled myself, however, with the fact that my seven month old son would get in free.  Indeed the primary reason for this outing was to impart to him an early interest in nature by exposing him to the wonders of the sea. 

I glanced down at Luke’s stroller as we left the ticket booth and meandered our way through the crowd to the main entrance.  He had just completed a cavernous yawn and was blinking his eyes heavily.  “Make sure he doesn’t go to sleep,” I quipped to my wife, “I don’t want him to miss a moment of this.”

At last we entered the great glass doors of the aquarium and were instantly greeted by the smell of salt water and air conditioning.  A giant, cylindrical fish tank stood like a pillar of crystal just in front of us.  Inside, a kaleidoscope of fish darted about in all directions.  I pulled out my camera so that I would be able to capture Luke’s first expression of surprise.        

It was here that my disappointment began.  Rather than the vibrant curiosity I expected, my camera lens was greeted by yet another yawn as Luke eased back into his stroller with a settled air of indifference.   I began to point vigorously at the tank with cries of “look!” and “fishy!”, but in spite of my gesticulations, my son remained unmoved.  “He must be overwhelmed with it all,” I remarked to my wife. 

“He just looks bored to me,” she replied as we began to stroll down the walkway to the various exhibits.

In spite of my initial disappointment, I was determined that my son be thrilled and enlightened by this experience.  As we proceeded through the aquarium I made every effort to stoke his interest.  I positioned his stroller in front of every tank so that he would have an excellent view of its contents.  I read every placard to him and we watched every video that accompanied the exhibits.  I even broke the rules at the horseshoe crab-petting station by picking up one of the writhing creatures so that he could touch it.  This only drew a shriek of terror from my son which, in turn, caused me to drop the crab and drench my shirt in the process.

At last we neared the end of the tour.  We had seen everything from sharks to salamanders, yet nothing had sparked Luke’s interest.  It seemed that there was nothing in this multi-million dollar facility that would excite my son.  As we rounded the final corner I despaired of ever seeing his curiosity aroused.    That is, until we came upon the giant spider crab exhibit. 

Strategically positioned at the end of the aquarium tour, the giant spider crab is certain to dissolve the most stalwart apathy.  Imagine a common daddy longlegs on steroids complete with spiky armor and three foot long legs and you will get some idea of the spider crab’s appearance as it sat perched on a large rock in its murky, cylindrical tank.  This, I was certain, would grab Luke’s attention.

I wheeled his stroller next to the tank and knelt down beside him to await his response.  At first nothing happened.  Then Luke carefully stretched his hands out before him as a look of absolute wonder enveloped his face.  A sense of satisfaction steadily grew within me until I noticed that there was something strange about the way his eyes were set, as though his focus was upon something much nearer than the brooding creature in the tank before him.  I watched in amazement as Luke slowly flexed his tiny fingers up and down with a look of utter concentration on his brow.  My son had discovered his hands.

 Two months ago, I didn’t love you. Maybe I loved you a little, some of you a little more, some a little less. I certainly didn’t love you the way Christ commands me to love you, that is, as I love myself. Thankfully, God has shown me this problem and I have been praying that He will give me the grace to overcome it. Let me share with you just a few things that have helped me overcome this problem. (I am still a work in progress and believe me, I have not yet arrived at Christ-like love!)

  1. Random Acts of Kindness

           I recently went with a few people from our church to the local mall (the weekend before Christmas of all times) to participate in a Random Acts of Kindness outreach. For a few weeks prior to the event, we received donations from members of the church so we could go to the mall and buy people’s dinners. We went up to individuals and families as they were at the register of their dining establishment of choice in the food court and offered to pay for their meals. Some of them gave us odd looks, some were really pleased, one even broke into tears. Unlike typical evangelism, we didn’t make a deal with them and say, “I’ll buy your food if you sit and talk to me about Jesus.” We just provided a need out of love for our fellow people, and then gave them a church brochure with info about our church and  a message about Christ on it. No gimmicks, no Christian trickery, no evangelistic sleight of hand. For the first time in my life, I understood how Christ must have felt when throngs of people surrounded Him as He ministered to them. In a never before seen phenomenon, as we were buying food and giving church brochures to those for whom we purchased meals, we had people surrounding us asking us for our literature. Understand, they were not asking us to buy their dinners. They saw us showing love to people and it perked their interest, and they just wanted to know who we were. I have never had such a good time in evangelism. And I do very seriously consider this evangelism. Even though we didn’t actually get to talk about the Gospel, we demonstrated the love of Christ and gave them a paper with the word of God on it.

    2. Outreach to the Homeless

        A few weeks later, we took blankets we collected from church members to give to homeless people turned away from shelters. Our city has passed this really stupid law that shelters can only house a certain number of homeless, even if they have beds for more. The result is that several get turned away to sleep on the streets. I was upset the day of this ministry because as I was coming home from work around 5pm (the outreach started at 7pm) I spoke to our minister of evangelism and we only had 4 blankets. I had two problems with this: I was afraid there would be more than 4 people and we would run out of blankets and this would be bad for those who didn’t get one, and I was afraid not only would some be without a blanket, but our church would be embarrassed because we only managed to round up 4 blankets. I prayed that God would either give us more blankets, or give us only 4 people. In His abounding grace, He did both. We actually wound up with 14 blankets, but we didn’t have to give any out because everyone (yes, there were 4 people outside) got a bed that night. We’re going out again next week, it’s supposed to be a lot colder, so there’ll be more people, and thankfully we have more blankets.

    3. Real Conversations

       I have a tendency to teach and lecture without wanting to listen, because I don’t (didn’t, that is) love people enough to really listen to their problems with Christian compassion. I’ve been studying the life of Christ lately in an attempt to learn how to deal with people, and what I have seen is His remarkable ability to talk to people. He certainly didn’t talk like Christians talk. In Mark 10, a man asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life”. Notice that Jesus didn’t say, “You need to believe in me and get saved,” He talked to the man, and gently broke down his worldview. He gave him the little bit of God’s truth that he needed at that time, and sent him away to meditate on it. Maybe he came back, maybe he didn’t, but Jesus had a real conversation with him. Christians have been so determined to see a soul saved that they have neglected the rest of the man. If I really love someone, I’ll be interested in him, not just teaching him. So I’ve been trying to have real conversations with the people I see everyday.

   4. My House as God’s Sanctuary

       I’m terribly hobbit-like, and my house is my hole. This is at least how I felt until God began to change me. There was a “select elite” of people who I enjoyed having over to visit. Now, I can’t really explain the change outside of grace, but I like having more people over, even in-laws! (God really is amazing!) I have for so long wanted to use the abilities God gave me to minister (teaching, preaching etc.), but I was totally blind to this hunk of real estate I sit in every day. God has given me a home, not big but at least big enough to host a few people, and a wife who loves to be a hostess, but I was too thick to see how that could be used for His glory. I’m trying to now make my home a sanctuary for those who need it. (Hey, if you’re not doing anything tonight. . .)

So that’s my confession, and a list of just a few things that God’s using to change me more and more into the image of His Son. I love you. (At least I’m trying!)- A.P. Sullivan

DistractedHave you ever contemplated how much time we waste on meandering thoughts?  During any busy day, our minds become crowded with To-Do lists, Have-Done lists, and things you cannot even label because they speed by on the highway of your mind, forgotten as quickly as you thought of them.  Have you ever driven yourself to the store and wondered how you got there because your mind was not on the road, but you cannot really explain what distracted your mind for so long?  I have to admit that I have done this on several occasions.  In meditating on the thought life, I am starting to understand that this is a part of who we are.  Our thought lives reflect our self-discipline, or lack thereof.  Our brains become little more than pinball machines with thoughts darting back and forth with no real goal or focus.  This becomes a habit that we fall into.

 

Having an untrained mind is like a person that is trying to organize the closet.  They start well with the right intentions.  They arrange the shoes by type and color.  They pull out the old boxes to go through and put in their proper place.  But then something distracts them.  They see the closet floor needs to be vacuumed.  Then they see they might as well vacuum the entire bedroom, then the whole house.  As they are vacuuming, they see toys lying around that must be put up, and so goes the day.  At dusk they realize that the boxes are still lying in the bedroom floor, none of the clothes have been boxed up for the season and the only thing they accomplished was sorting the shoes.

 

However the first thing we must do to break a bad habit is to recognize it for what it is.  Is an uncontrolled mind such a bad thing?  I am coming to think that it is.  It shows disorder, lack of discipline, and it affects other areas of the life.  The example of the closet shows a person that cannot focus his or her mind on the task at hand.  The time has been wasted and cannot be gained back.  We see that having an undisciplined mind is a problem and we admit our failures.  But where are we to go from here?  Is there any help for those of us who have difficulty maintaining a constant stream of thought?  I Corinthians 10:5 states, “…bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” Our thoughts are to be brought under Christ’s control.  Does having a well-organized mind glorify God?  I say yes.  I am still meditating on this verse as I learn to control my thought life.  I know it will help organize my day, free myself from stress and most of all, glorify the One who gave me the mind to think.  Not to mention, I can drive to the store and not wonder why I am in the Laundromat parking lot instead.  Any comments or suggestions on this would be most helpful.

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