The Reality Foundry of the Divine

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When I walked around the corner of the back entrance to the courtyard I laughed.

The base material was already in the walkways. “What? Really? Cool!”

John had gone crazy, imagined the future with me — an idea in my head, an landscape architects plan, a couple of muddy measurements, a scribble with a pencil, a photocopy, and there it was, a venue worthy of an event, a celebration, a bride.

Metal stakes, dirt, red string lines, subgrade, grade, top of grade, finish grade, party grade, parade grade, life-changing grade — it was a virtual outdoor cathedral in the making.

The bobcat was scooping up base, the compactor was thumping it down, and I was living it up.

Then I went inside the chapel, passing over the newly refinished oak floors, and into the worship center.

I laughed again.

The recovered pews were in, fabricated in dark, rich brown — clean, smooth, shinny, elegance. The worship center remodel was entering it’s final stages. From the lovely pendant lights to the upscale wood floors, from the newly clear-glassed arch windows to the freshly carpeted stage, the place glowed with a new-found self-esteem anchored in original Spanish Revival glory.

What is it?

It is nothing less than the reality-foundry of the divine at work.

It is not less than the God-thumping laugh-making, hope-crafting, power-mongering energy forever resident in the world’s grand, eloquent, spiritual renewal, its lovely, numinous, reviviscent and effortless renovation.

Corrected

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“Look at you,” I said, “Joseph, the carpenter.”

“Do you know why I do this?” he asked me looking up from his logs and sticks.

“No, why?” I asked. As I was thinking of why someone might do this, in that moment I was surprised by his answer.

“I do this for God,” he said, with a little water in his eyes. “He gave me back my life, and so I do this is for him.”

His answer wasn’t cliched, nor was it said for any effect. It was one of those moments when the sincerity of the person, their honest core breaks through on you as a touching, moving, authentic force.

He looked down at the manger he was building for the Christmas Eve service at the church.

I felt suddenly as if in the presence of a sage.

“People say to me, ‘You did this and you did that'” he said, “but that’s not why I do this. It gives me a really simple, good feeling when I am here, working alone, doing this for God.

Colossians 3:23 came to mind, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ.”

In that moment I felt an odd but familiar feeling — realigned, brought back to focus, corrected.

What Heals?

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We happened on a haberdashery while walking home, just after stopping for hand-made chocolate truffles on Columbia Street.

It was an upscale hat shop in North Beach, and we stood amid a crowd of fashionistas, trying on high-quality head ware.

I looked good in the fedora, my daughter Laurel in the brown felt cloche with the light brown polkadot band.

I bought it for her for $70 — for Christmas. How could I not? She looked all 1920’s and 30’s in it — coy and gorgeous.

I could not have been more smitten.

It was that kind of day.

It began with a cafe latte, purchased by walking just down the street from our Genoa Place apartment to Cafe Trieste — and a bear claw found just around that corner at Stella’s.

Later my wife and daughters and I walked across the Golden Gate bridge, that huge orange-over-blue suspension of belief and rode the bus back to the waterfront.

For lunch I ate killer clam chowder and sour dough bread with my daughter Rosalind at the wharf. Later the family had ice creams. We walked home from there.

That night I had a slice of world class pizza taken from Tony’s, purchased two blocks for our apartment, a Firestone IPA from Trader Joes just down the hill, and some chocolate covered popcorn from a neighborhood shop.

I ate my dinner sitting in the bay window of our apartment, over looking Union Street, the city lights glowing in the big buildings, a crescent moon overhead, traffic down below.

What heals?

Love, pizza, bridges, chocolates, lattes, a wife, walking together, bread, daughters, hats and beauty — all collected within walking distance of where you sleep.

What heals me is San Francisco with the women I adore.

The Eagles: A Fable

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This week I watched a documentary on the Eagles, that great rock-and-roll machine that cranked out the hits and the hopes of the 1970’s.

The Eagles made it to the big time, became one of the best selling bands of all time and then came apart at the relational seams. I find this kind of thing fascinating. Apparently public success for some of us is as hard to handle as public failure.

When publicly successful, some of us tend to suffer a kind of craziness over the public exposure that comes with it. At first our social success creates an astonishing soul energy — we are loved! — but then later, away from the lights, a deep soul deficit may surface. To recover from what is perhaps removed from us by adulation and disapproval we may tend to seek out addictive, harmful solaces.

We brood, and we suffer the angst of the known hero. We suffer foolishness. We may suffer harmful competitions, insane jealousies, massive insecurities, twisted self evaluations. We may complicate concerning our ability to make and sustain our place in the world.

As a result of the pressures public success brings, many people avoid it. They know they can’t handle it. Maybe they can’t. That is perhaps too bad for some, especially those who could survive it and do some amazing things.

To explore this I wrote a modern fable chronicling the rise and fall of the Eagles. In doing this, I invented some new words. This is my attempt at success. I’m not afraid of success. Now I think I’ll go eat!

A Modern Fable

First, there was that pondiferous moment in Los Angeles when it all matriculated and then superwonkified at the Troubadour.

Then there was the exhaustification in London when it didn’t.

And then there is how if you skip to the end it is actually very hard to say what the freakin’ rockstar happened – – the mind-wrestling complications that came with the fore-waiting, the madly intensifying pressure of the creative wars, the wasting psychic metastacision of the alpha male ego and the final terrifying stages of group PTSD.

If you work under the huge, bright lights, if your own face becomes a series of a thousands dazed smiles, if naked women dance on your stage, if you find yourself running in the halls and vaulting into the waiting cars — the berzerkified, ernifricating cocaine craziness afterwards — just maybe then, you might begin to come unhinged too.

It goes back. From the time he was a little boy, from the time he got his first set of drums, from the moment they first heard him play the electric guitar like he was emptying his soul, from the time they heard him sing, from the instant they saw each other’s id in the Hotel California, the oddishly combinicated way in which they met others who wishified to performicate in public at a world-tour level and the weird chancification whereby they womped into a guy who also had the same mad, mad, insanified vision, how they dug the businessman who thought it all might work if they found their signature soul — it was star-crazy, supercool, madman upsetting!

They literally hissed, hogged and hated each other off the stage.

It can be narrificated and then expliconicated as the inevitable brain-damaging trauma of sudden success, or it can be psycho-differentiated as a mental heart attack, but in reality, at its core, it is about the desoulification that comes from not knowing who you are when they parade you before the adoring masses as who you aren’t.

Later the lead singer said, “We made it, and it ate us.”

If you’d like to read more of my fables, please visit my fables website at http://www.antifables.com

Miracles: The Views of C. S. Lewis

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Miracles, what are they?

We may say that in common usage, a miracle is a surprising and welcome event that is not expected.

About a underdog team winning a game, we might enthuse, “It’s miracle!”

When it comes to philosophy or theology, the concept deepens. Here we think of a miracle as a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

Posed this way, the belief in miracles or not becomes centered in a world view that believes in God or not.

In his book miracles, C. S. Lewis gives technical definitions to the two different world views, the naturalistic view and the supernatural or theistic world view.

Naturalists, under his definition, believe that the Universe is a vast process in which all events which ever happen find their causes solely in the events that happened before them within the system.

Supernaturalists, on the other hand, believe that interruptions or interferences can take place in this system of our universe from some other system outside it. A supernatural event would be one that is not traceable, even in principle, solely to materially determined causes within our universe.

So when it comes to a belief in miracles or not, it might be noted that we may tend to end up where we start out. If we don’t believe in God, then we may quickly discount miracles, If we do, then we have a way to explain them.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way, “If you have hitherto disbelieved in miracles, it is worth pausing a moment to consider whether this is not chiefly because you thought you had discovered what the story was really about?—that atoms, and time and space and economics and politics were the main plot? And is it certain you were right? It is easy to make mistakes in such matters.”

Lewis helps us to see that if we come at the question of miracles with the presupposition that there is only the natural world, the material world, then we are set up to discount anything we observe that might be supernatural with our bias.

Lewis goes on and explains how essential this issue is to the discussion. “For this reason, the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted. And our senses are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.”

This brings up the key issue. Is there a spiritual world, and if so are the spiritual and the natural worlds two different worlds, two different kinds of things?

Christianity believe in the spiritual, in God, and it believes that the supernatural world and the natural world aren’t entirely separate. For Christians there is no clear line, wall or chasm existing between the natural world and the supernatural world. Therefore it is a mistake if we think of miracles as weird, as foreign, as paranormal.

The Christian idea of miracles is what one would expect from a God who is the author of nature. Miracle fit within the realities of what God has already done. He who made it, rules it and empowers it as he wills. For example, grapes, left to ferment, turn to wine. So when Jesus, as the Bible claims, turned water to wine, he was simply enabling and speeding up a process that occurs in nature. And when he turned bread into more bread, he was simply doing what take place in a grain field everyday. When God acts supernaturally, it is within the natural that he has created, and yet it goes beyond it in the direction that it was already going. Here is Lewis’s summary argument on this.

“The fitness of the Christian miracles, and their difference from … mythological miracles, lies in the fact that they show invasion by a Power which is not alien. They are what might be expected to happen when she is invaded not simply by a god, but by the God of Nature: by a Power which is outside her jurisdiction not as a foreigner but as a sovereign. They proclaim that He who has come is not merely a king, but the King, her King and ours.”

For many Christians, the issue of miracles comes down one of the great miracles of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Did it happen? Is it bizarre? Again, for the Christian, we need not put this in the category of the paranormal, of the completely unimaginable. If God is God, that is he is the author of life, then he can surely also be the author of new life. This is not outside what he can do or what we have seen him do even in the natural world. Life from death — we see this every day in nature, as the dying plant leaves behind new seed for new life.

Jesus coming as God in the flesh, to give new life through his death, this is perhaps the greatest miracle the Christian must come to terms with. If this is possible, then anything is possible.

C.S. Lewis called the incarnation “the Grand Miracle.” He writes: “The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation…. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this…. It was the central event in the history of the Earth—the very thing that the whole story has been about”

By a miracle that passes human comprehension, the Creator entered his creation, the Eternal entered time, God became human—in order to die and rise again for the salvation of all people. As Lewis says, “He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still … (to) the womb … down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him”

Writes Lewis, Jesus is the ‘first fruits,’ the pioneer of life,’ He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so.”

This is credible, and it is rational, and it makes sense and it makes sense out of and explains everything else. The universe exists for and within God, and everywhere evidence his entering into his creation to give it life and to renew it’s life.

Being a Christian isn’t so much just believing in miracles, it is believing in God, and it is living out a miracle and living within a miracle. The everyday experience of those who know God is an experience of living with God, God incarnate in us and all around us. Every day is a renewal in Christ, every other person, a beautiful miracle, the very work of God himself.

Emotional Attachment Theory

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I really love my dad. He is a good man.

Odd though, I cannot remember my dad ever playing baseball with me as I was growing up — and I loved baseball. I played a lot of it with my brothers and friends, but not with dad. And growing up, I also loved school; it was my thing, but I cannot think of any conversations with my dad about school, or any particular excitement from him about my academic accomplishments, or about going to college. I pretty much went to the university alone, on my own, with my own initiative, my own encouragement and my own money.

I love my mom. She loved my so much as a little child. But the other day I was thinking about how challenging my teen years were, especially my years trying to negotiate my relationships with girls. There was an emotional gap in those years for me, between my mom and I, and we didn’t talk much about how to process life and emotions and love. We loved each other, but I cannot think of one time my mom ever talked to me about girls, about relationships, about dating or about what women need from men.

As I grew into manhood, I did so without having gotten all I needed from my family. I was loved, but I was in part, insecurely, and anxiously attached.

Sue Johnson, an expert in the field of attachment theory explains what I experienced. From birth, from our earliest years, “we have a wired-in need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others.”

And when we don’t get that, when we are isolated, it messes with us. Sue explains. “Isolation—not just physical isolation but emotional isolation—is traumatizing for human beings. The brain actually codes it as danger.”

I experienced some emotional isolation in my teen years, and in my college years I actually became afraid of negotiating close relationships, especially with girls. And so my need remained. The research shows that the deep need and longing for a secure attachment never goes away. It just evolves, and the need of the child for the parent becomes the need of the adult for the lover.

Despite the deficit I brought along with me from my childhood, in my twenties I met a girl that met the need I had for emotional safety. She became my confidant, then my best friend, then my wife.

But our early years of marriage were rough. Like me, she came from a family where she didn’t get some of her very basic needs met, the need to be heard, to be loved and to be listened to. And so because of how we grew up, neither of us knew how to talk about our emotional needs very well. We battled. I was critical. She was angry. I tried to fix things. It made them worse.

What eventually helped?

We went through some hard things together — a birth of a disabled daughter, a dramatic career change, some medical problems — and we began to learn to tell each other how we really felt. We learned how to be broken, together, and to accept that as okay. Through difficult times we learned to listen to each other and to listen to our own needs, and to finally, just understand.

With a therapists help, I began to understand my own deep need for love, for connection, for attachment. My therapist helped me to learn to see that I was — like my wife — weak, vulnerable, helpless, needy, and to learn to be okay with that, and to communicate that, first to myself and then in my wife and to others. I learned to bond, over weakness, and to make being human, normal.

And it is at this level of weakness and vulnerability, that we really bond with other people, emotionally and deeply. At the level of complete emotional honesty, we become securely attached. This happens when we are safe to say and feel anything, without judgment or disapproval.

This is what we all need.

Evil

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Guest post by Levi Kottas

“By the way, a Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow,” Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother’s words, “told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them–all sorts of things you can’t imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.

These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother’s womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They’ve planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby’s face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby’s face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn’t it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say.”

“Brother, what are you driving at?” asked Alyosha.

“I think if the devil doesn’t exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”

The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoyevsky captures the essence of evil perfectly. Most us of are left feeling ill after reading a selection like this. Francis Schaeffer referred to this internal turmoil as “moral motions” (see Romans 2:15). In a world seemingly defiled with evil, the Christian can easily find himself orr herself questioning the goodness of God while others may even question his very existence. When confronted with real, palpable evil – rape, murder, torture, etc. – asking why God would cause these sorts of things to happen or angrily denying God’s existence is altogether understandable.

As ambassadors of God’s kingdom, how do we flesh this out? Is God the author of evil? Should we be questioning the validity of our faith in the face of war, famine, disease and suffering? The quick answer is no, but with a topic so emotionally charged, a one word response will not suffice. In order to effectively tackle the problem of evil, we must first come to an understanding of what evil is.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that evil is something. That is, evil is real. In other words, evil is a matter of objective fact and not merely personal opinion (more on this later). The second thing that needs to be understood is that evil is not some “thing.” I know this sounds like a bit of double-speak but an important distinction needs to be made here.

Evil is not a blackish-grey blob floating around the universe that we must carefully avoid. No, evil is a relational property (as evidenced by the fact all questions about evil are either raised about a person or by a person). A good example of this can be made through the use of a piece of steel. If the piece of steel is a scalpel being wielded by a surgeon to remove a tumor, the “relationship” between the steel and the person with the tumor can be declared good. If, however, the piece of steel is a knife in the hands of a criminal being plunged into the belly of his/her victim, the “relationship” between the piece of steel and the victim can rightfully be declared evil.

Why is this distinction important? If evil is a description of the “relationship” between two or more things (more specifically two or more caused/created things), God cannot be its cause, author or creator. The astute among us may already have the follow up question ringing in their head; “Okay, maybe he didn’t cause it, but why would a loving God allow so much evil?”

The rejoinder to this question, made popular by Alvin Plantinga, is known as the free will defense. In reading through all of God’s “omni’s” it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that God can do anything. The truth is God cannot do just anything. God cannot do that which is logically impossible. He can’t make a square-circle, He can’t make a rock so big He can’t lift it, and He can’t contradict himself (praise God!). God also can’t create freedom without choice.

God didn’t want robots that blindly follow him. Rather, He wanted people who freely choose to love and follow Him. We can all understand the importance of choice concerning a loving relationship. What makes love authentic is being loved according to another’s volition rather than through coercion. My relationship with my wife is special because she chooses to love me. She was never forced or told to do so. To put it simply; God is responsible for the fact freedom and we are responsible for our acts of freedom.

There is one objection to the free will defense that holds a bit of rhetorical force that I would like to address before moving on. Some might respond to our freedom of choice by asking why God couldn’t have created a world with less evil. That is, why not keep freedom of choice intact but eliminate cancer and poverty? There are three things not being considered by a person who sincerely asks this question:

!. We don’t know that God hasn’t done so already.

2. We don’t fully understand linkages – the resulting effects of God intervening.

3. We don’t know that we would be satisfied with the limits imposed on evil. Consider Aristotle’s tallest man problem. Imagine a person who couldn’t stand the idea of there being a tallest man. In order ease his mental anguish this person decides to eliminate (kill) the tallest man. What then after he has eliminated the tallest man? The previously second tallest man is now the tallest man and we are back to where we started! The point is, the idea of eliminating some evil sends you into an infinite regress. We would get to the point of denying God’s goodness because of paper cuts (oh, the humanity!).

Understanding that God didn’t cause evil and why He allowed it might be good enough for the believer but many non-believers (atheists) remain unstirred. For many non-believers (atheists), talk over whether God allowed evil or caused evil is a waste of time; the idea of a loving God and evil coexisting is incompatible – like Super Man and kryptonite. When looked at carefully, it isn’t difficult to see how truly shallow this objection is.

Any discussion of evil (more specifically moral evil) under the atheistic worldview ultimately degenerates to nothing more than empty words. If there is no God to objectively ground morals in, all that we are left with is moral relativism – right or wrong/good or evil is purely subjective (only personal opinion). The value of maternal love of a human mother towards her child is as arbitrary and morally neutral as when a salt water crocodile eats her young. A slave owner is no more right or wrong than a researcher who dedicates his or her life to curing cancer.

It defies reason to even attempt to reconcile moral choice with a worldview that negates the very notion of free choice altogether (the two are not logically compatible). As Hume said, “No matter how hard one tries, you cannot get moral agents from a process of scientific materialistic reductionism. It simply does not work. Morality does not come from empirically verifiable scientific statements alone. At several points of the delicate formula we will always have to make the leap into the realm of moral reasoning; but if there is no absolute basis from which to make the leap, if there is no transcendent foundational scope to human life, then there is no platform from whence the leap can be made.”

I am not suggesting atheist can’t be moral. In fact, I believe they can. The problem isn’t immorality; to be immoral one would have to presume knowledge of right or wrong. Atheism cannot plausibly have any such knowledge. Atheism is not immoral; it is amoral, which is downright terrifying!

One last point to address before I wrap this thing up – natural evil (earthquakes, volcanos, etc.). First I think it’s important to point out there is nothing inherently evil about one continental plate slipping under another, nor about the earth’s trembling as a result. These natural events are morally neutral. Something “bad” only results when humans get caught in such events. Much like the case with moral evil, the non-believer (atheist) finds himself or herself in a precarious position when complaining about natural evil.

If an atheist suggests a tidal wave sweeping over an island ought not to have carried children out to sea he is acknowledging that this might be troubling for the islanders but is ignoring the great boon for the marine life surrounding the island. The atheist is quietly proclaiming there is a way things should be, a view only plausible for the believer.

The following five points might help the believer understand why God has chosen to allow natural evil:

1. The earth’s processes that cause many of these events are crucial to our survivability on this planet (rent The Privileged Planet on DVD for a better understanding of this)

2. God does not cause people to be in the times and places where the natural events take place

3. It is very plausible that only in a world suffused with natural evil would great numbers of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.

4. Although God has intervened in His creation before (performed miracles to handle/prevent some form of evil), He is the Master painter of this canvas we call the universe. Miracles are like radiant colors that add much beauty to a painting with just a light touch. Too much lustrous color can ruin the whole painting. God is the Master Designer/Artist and He knows the perfect amount and scope of miracles that will reflect the most beauty of His creation.

5. Compassion is a virtue that God desires us all to have. How could we develop the virtue of compassion without the existence of suffering?

Armed with all this information, how should we respond when someone we know is suffering from some sort of moral or natural evil? How quick should we be to answer with the proper philosophical or theological retort? The appropriate time is when they are ready to hear it; after having the chance to grieve and process all the pain (both emotional and physical).

I have experienced this first hand. Six years ago I went through a divorce and while in the throes of all the emotional anguish I was given many of the standard Christian responses, most of which rang hollow. There was however one response that I will never forget. Upon hearing the news of my divorce my brother, who was living in Escondido at the time (I was in Chula Vista) drove down that night to visit. He arrived at the house late, walked in my room laid down next me in shared in my pain. Two grown men crying together; so unexpected, so taboo yet so appropriate.

Consumption Gumption!

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Recently, I bought new tires for my Nissan Juke — 235 50/R17’s.

I had researched this purchase for three weeks. Upon buying, I experienced the thrill of the purchase, and the agony of the bill!

I upgraded to wider, quieter, safer, longer-lasting tires — less roll resistance, better gas mileage, and better traction on wet surfaces, but afterwards I brooded, “Did I just pay too much for the wrong tires?” They weren’t the most expensive offered me; they were also by far not the cheapest.

Stuff is tough on me!  Then again, later looking at the tires sitting under the car —  wide, stabilizing, sports-car aggressive, more efficient, safer — and  feeling the improvement in ride as I drove and turned the car, I knew I’d made the right choice. There is a significant improvement in ride, handling, safety and quality.

I had passed safely through the rugged terrain of the buyer’s high and the buyer’s low. I bought the right shoes for my car.

Consumption takes some gumption, for our buying choices exist within our emotions. Anxiety and hope rule the attribution of value.

I venture ahead into the world of consumerism with a bit of nagging uncertainty (that’s weird, but so human) and a bit of loving confidence;  I pick my way gingerly through the landscape of consumption.

The ability to purchase wisely — it’s hard!

Smart buying requires accurate knowledge, good judgment, some risk, some caution, the good sense to stay within our means, the equally good sense to sometimes upgrade to better, smarter and safer.

A while back I called my cable company. I did that because I had just come from Best Buy where a representative from another TV service offered me a better deal. I didn’t take it. All the reviews on Yelp were negative — lousy costumer service and poor quality.

I’m glad I didn’t jump on that deal.

But the option gave me the idea, the energy and the motivation to negotiate my current bill with my current company, and so I did. It took three phone calls until I got the representative that knew what I could do, and through her I dropped everything I didn’t need. I dropped my land line phone. Who needs a home phone when the whole family has smart phones that far surpass the house phones? I dropped some TV stations the family never uses. I kept what my daughter wanted — the ability to see her beloved San Diego Padres.

That worked; it fact, it worked so well that, again, recently, when the baseball season ended, I got another idea. Cut the cable. I did. I bought an indoor antenna for $30. This gives me all the network channels free with great HD reception. Then I bought a Roku TV box and signed up for HuluPlus at $10 a month. The only thing I kept the cable company for was internet. I cut my cable bill by two-thirds, and we still have more TV options that I could ever want. Really, TV pretty much bores me anyway, so less is better, for me..

All this figuring took a change in thinking for me, and a bit of assertiveness with the cable company, and a bit of research and work, but in the end, these were wise financial decisions. With less TV and less phone, I’ll be saving about $1700 next year in phone and tv service costs! That is a lot of money, and it is helping me to increase my savings, increase my giving to charity, and travel more.

With all this said, a few thought on wise shopping come to mind.

Think, process and plan before you consume. Don’t buy impulsively. The tire purchase; that was my second visit to the tire store to discuss the options. I researched for about three weeks before buying.

Avoid debt if possible.  I do have a car payment and a house payment, but no other debt. I put the tires on a card, but I will pay for them out of my savings account when the bill comes. I save, so that when these bigger, less frequent expenses come —  the tires, a broken washing machine, the dental bills —  I can pay without paying interest. Not everyone can do this at every point in life, but it is something to aim for. Savings lessen stress and allow for the extra expenses to not take from us in interest what we can have for ourselves by some care with spending and some pre=planning.

Rely on the wisdom of the community of shoppers. I read numerous customer reviews on the tires and the cable and TV service providers before I pulled my wallet’s trigger.

Don’t be afraid to risk. It was a risk to buy better tires. It was a risk to drop my home phone line. I’ve had a home phone all my life. No more! No more political and sales calls!

Decide with your head and your heart. Emotions are fine, wanting something is normal, desire can lead to improvement in life, but the heart must team up with the head to make smart decisions. It is with our minds that we can best please our hearts, over the long hall.

Don’t forget that you also want to give back. I make my financial decisions with the constant check that I am reserving something for others. I save, shop, spend, and don’t spend with it in mind that charity is not an option. I will only spend if I also leave something to give. Why? I want to be able to give to others. Last year I bought tires for my daughter’s car. I paid for kids to go to school in Mexico. I gave to my church. I like myself when I give. My goal is to give away at least ten per cent of what we make. That seems fair to me.  The good life is not spending all I have on myself.

Lastly, remember that it is a privilege to get to decide. Much of the world does not have the luxury of driving personal cars, upgrading tires, owning cutting-edge technology, having access to consumer information. I won’t always be able to do this either. We should always consume, when we do, with a great sense of thankfulness that we are alive, privileged and resourced enough to consume wisely.

How very cared for we are when we have the power to care for ourselves and others wisely.

Random

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When I hung up I cried.

The numbers weren’t down as much as I had hoped.

“What does it mean?” I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell — and the doctors didn’t seem to want to say.

It’s multiple myeloma, cancer, and I’m not sure what to make of it; neither is my brother. He has it, and there seems to be no puppeteer above his stage, pulling on his strings, jerking him away from it.

There are a lot of variables at play in his disease, and the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The doctors say that the course of this disease is not predictable, that every patient responds differently to treatment, that they will have to try things to see if they work, and so my brother and I and everyone else who cares for him are left with the unknown.

At time like these, life can appear to us a unsettlingly uncertain, confusing, as random. Its events may not have discernible causes, patterns or solutions.

An accident, a sudden disease, a family member who dies and suddenly we experience the shock of the unexpected, the chill of the unknown, the unwelcome, surreal face the random.

With my brothers cancer, for us, there are more questions than there are answers. Why did he get cancer? When did it begin? Was there a roll of the dice in it? And what about God? My brother is a pastor. Despite my brother’s allegiance to God, God clearly didn’t stop him from getting cancer. And God clearly hasn’t healed it, despite many requests to do just that.

Is randomness playing a part in my brother’s life? Does it play a part in the realities we all experience?

Let’s consider it. Say we happen to be driving through an intersection when a car is also crossing the same intersection perpendicular to us, and the light fails and is green in both directions and the other car hits us. Under such circumstances it is common for someone to say, “That was horrible luck! I guess I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and everyone understands what is being said.

There are many variables at work in the crash, the failure of the light, just at that moment, the presence of the two cars at exactly the same time, the drivers choices to drive out that day, the speed of the cars — it’s complicated — and so we are right in seeing chance as playing a role in bringing all these elements into play, placing us and someone else at a scene at just that second on that day at that speed when the light failed and involving us in the crash.

It feels like this with my brother’s cancer. It’s a car crash we didn’t see coming, couldn’t prevent, with a result we can’t predict. There are so many variables in my brother’s situation — our family medical history, his genetic makeup, his age in life, the aggressiveness of the cancer, the drugs that are available at this time, his doctor’s choices of treatments, his body’s unique responses to the treatments. Indeed, there are so many factors at play here that we are left with little ability to make accurate projections, draw conclusions or make stable plans.

Life with cancer — for us it has a kind of surreal randomness, at the very least because of our vast ignorance, and quite possibly, because there are elements of it that are random at it’s very core.

This awareness of randomness is real, and it can be observed everywhere. We experience the rather common randomness of life when we take up dice. When we roll dice, the outcome is uncertain. For instance, on any given roll of five dice, we may get a pair of dice that will match or we may not. Anyone who has played dice knows this. We cannot say for certain, before we roll, if we will get a pair or not, nor can we discover a formula by which to accurately predict each roll.

However, the roll results may be calculated as a probabilities. For example, when we roll five dice one time, there is a 70% chance that we will get one pair that match. So from this we can see that the frequency of some outcomes can be calculated even when the outcome of a certain roll cannot be known.

This seems similar to my brother’s treatment plan. The outcome of this is unknown. When he is taking treatment, he is rolling dice.

Some scientists would argue against randomness. They would argue that everything is explainable, if we dig deep enough. There is one problem with this; it has not been proven yet. There are many things scientists do not understand. In fact, for all of us, there is more we don’t understand than we do.

Some of the very spiritual would argue that there is no chance or luck in life because the hand of God is in the world, because the power of God is present to control our affairs, and that because of God’s sovereignty, and his omniscience, nothing is random.

That is not what the Bible says.

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

The wise Solomon observed chance, just have we have, and not just in the dice. He spotted it by looking at gifted people and seeing that they fall prey to random forces — the swift, strong, wise, smart and educated fall into trouble by chance. A great athlete is ruined by a chance injury. A strong, young person dies of chance contact with a disease.

We see this kind of thing in the New Testament. In Acts 12, King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed. He arrested Peter and threw him in prison. It’s odd; Peter was miraculously delivered from prison by an angel, while James was brutally killed.

Why was James killed and Peter saved? We don’t know. It must have seemed random, perhaps even unfair, to those who loved James.

Did James’ death have any element of chance in it, the car at the wrong place and the wrong time, and if so, why would God allow chance as part of his universe, particularly for his useful, chosen ones?

Perhaps this is because God has not chosen to be the great puppeteer, pulling the strings on all the events of his universe.

The Bible reveals a God who lets go of some of his control. In the command of Genesis 1:28, we humans we given the power to create, to make choices, and to steward the earth. And then we were held responsible for our decisions.

God gave us choice, and so he has let us decide many things in our lives, and these choices are consequential and he holds us accountable, just as he did with Adam and Eve. We can see in this that God has in this way taken his hands off the wheel a bit, and he has let us drive. Apparently, he wanted to let go of control.

Just in this same way, as noted by Solomon, it appears that God has decided not to dictate every dice throw, or every moment of nature. It looks very much like he decided that he did not want to run the whole show. He has allowed the dice to roll random, he has set up the game this way, because he choose to let go of the wheel. He apparently wanted us to experience choice and chance, and to let himself experience our choices and the universe’s chances because that would make for the world he wanted. We can’t be certain why he did this, but we can note that the alternative would put him in a very bizarre position.

For God to to dictate every dice roll, to superintend every event, to manage every accident, to dispense all diseases, to hand out all sufferings — this would nullify all choice, remove all human responsibility, take away consequence, delete the sow and reap principal that now operates, and present instead a world totally controlled and dominated by the creator. In this scenario God himself would become the world’s great unrelenting, hyper-attentive, over-active, mad, mad, mad tyrant of phenomena. This is not God.

God is not a crazed puppeteer, frantically working all the stings, making every thing move. God is not the crooked casino manager, loading all the dice. God is not the over-controlling boss, the mad micromanager of life, nor is he the horrific, disease-breathing monster of the universe. God is not the Pandora’s box of the world, unleashing every ill at every turn, in every case. He has certainly allowed the possibility for disease, and in his great power he can certainly can allow a disease to overtake a person or a nation, (we see this in the Old Testament) but he isn’t the horrible disease dispensing, disease mongering dictator of all of life.

Here is the deal. God obviously didn’t want it that way, a totally controlled creation. And yet we must also insist that according to Christian orthodoxy, God does retain ultimate control of life, that he does intervene, that he does sometimes fix things, help us. Christian history and theology include the belief in the incarnation, Christ bringing salvation to earth, God intervening, God fixing human kind, God is far more than a Divine Watchmaker, winding up the world, stepping back to let it tick along on its own.

How do we square all this up? Well, perhaps in this way. God is actively involved in the universe, God does care, does step in, but chance still operates. Why? Perhaps God has allowed chance in the world, just as he has allowed free will, because he saw what he could do with it.

What could he do with chance? Chance has its uses. By chance, by the presence of the random, we transient humans live blinded to the future. Because of randomness, we see the roll of the dice dimly, as through a glass darkly. Perhaps in this way, chance was allowed to confound us, to humble us, to lead us to depend on God. Chance is perhaps an antidote to pride. We can’t figure it all out, we don’t have all the answers, we can’t predict the future, we are not ultimately in control. Also, by means of chance, or randomness, we are sometimes pleasantly surprised. Good things fall to chance, not merely bad things. By chance we may get a full-house! By chance we see beautiful wild animal. By chance we win one of the many games of life.

And there is perhaps one more virtue in chance. By means of chance, mystery is maintained, and mystery is a deep part of God himself.

Let’s bring up one more problem. Open theism, as presented by proponent Gregory A. Boyd, is the view that the future is in part, a set of possibilities and known by God as possibilities. This has caused tremendous debate from the traditionalists who insist that this limits God’s knowing and determining power in a heretical way. Open theism is not what I am arguing here. The Bible seems to make it clear that God knows everything, past, present and future. God does not, not know what will happen yet. He knows ahead what possibilities and probabilities will become realities. He knows which “might happen” will become a “did happen.” And we might even say that what seems random to us, a possibility, or a probability, may have a very clear explanation to him. And yet this need not make us abandon the doctrine of free will or the possibility of chance.

God, if he is God, that is omniscient and omnipotent, is never surprised, nor is he limited. He sees the way all the dice will roll before they roll and yet, seeing ahead or knowing ahead is not the same as causing, and giving choice is not controlling, and letting chance work in the world does not mean he cannot intervene at any point he chooses. Apparently, God is big enough to allow other forces than himself to be at work in his creation. God has gifted the creation with power.

We may maintain our affirmation that God is omniscient, and yet agree that it is still clear from the Bible and our experiences, that there is human free will and a random element in life. In trying to make sense of this, David Bartholomew puts it this way, apparently “God can have it both ways” – randomness and order.

What to conclude? How do we comfort the family who loses James? What do we tell the Christian with cancer? What do we celebrate as God’s intervention, what do we accept as his will, what do we take responsibility for?

I’m still not always completely sure, but I am sure that God is wise and responsible and makes good choices and handles the random well and that so should I.

My brother told me recently that he has experienced God walking with him through his personal car wreck, walking with him through his unwanted, seemingly random numbers, through his suffering, with him through the apparent randomness of his experience, with him not as a magician who chants the abracadabra and the disease is gone, but with him as a God of beauty, a divine beauty maker, offering bits and pieces of respite and wonder that refresh, in the middle of the news that shatters.

…..

Note: For my modern proverbs on randomness, visit http://www.modernproverbs.net

Apricity 101

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Being curious — apparently it’s good for learning.

Professor Charan Ranganath, the senior author on a recent study on curiosity, says that “curiosity recruits the reward system” of the brain. It puts us in a state where “we are more likely to learn and retain information.”

Cool! I love the feeling of curiosity. When I’m curious, apparently the research shows that dopamine goes to work in my head. From my experience it does; I can feel it coaching my neurons right now. I can feel it calling out to the universe of knowledge, “Come in here! Come into my brain too!”

According to the professor, dopamine is the information sucking chemical, enhancing our curiosity rushes, aiding stuff in settling in.

This week I ran into the word “kerfuffle.” I got a dopamine rush out of it. It put me in a kerfuffle. A kerfuffle is a commotion, uproar, tumult or brouhaha. Love it! My brain is an uproar.

This week I also came across the word “apricity.” It was love at first sight! Apricity refers to the warmth of the sun in the winter. Think an old dog laying in the sun in January.

Nice! Think of the apricity of a beautiful smile. It wakes up and warms the freezing cold heart.

Not everything wakes up the brain. This week I got a little frustrated, and a bit angry. I upgraded my smart phone and lost my account password and a bunch of documents.

I’ve noticed that being angry, getting frustrated, does the opposite of being curious.

At first anger or upset may stimulate a pay-attention state, but the angrier we get, the less effectively we tend to think.

About the tenth time I tried to reset my password on my smart phone, my brain went on strike!

At some point anger decreases our ability to think, it gorgonizes our ability to take in new information. Anger kills data intake. Anger is the enemy of curiosity and learning.

Yeah, what to do?

Thinking about it, I think I’ll fight anger and frustration with curiosity and wonder. I think I’ll ask what I can learn about myself and about others, from everyone of life’s frustrations. And I think I’ll keep looking up new words on my new and improved smart phone!

Come to think of it — when I am tempted to be angry or frustrated — I will to rebelliously revel, bask and sun in the opportunities for learning present there.

I plan, pledge and commit to get goofy-good at enjoying and learning from the winter-warmth of life.

Curious, I will sit at the hearth of the apricity resident in every single one of life’s wonderful, frustrating, kerflufflng upgrades!

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