What Is Truth?

Among my many odd interests is at least some interest in the field of mathematical philosophy, which is a discipline of philosophy that seeks to use mathematics to help sharpen philosophical thinking [1]. This week’s lecture in the class I am taking on in the subject was a bit disappointing in that most of the examinations of truth in the lecture itself were rather trivial, even to the point of being tautological (that is, A = A). That said, there was one aspect of the lecture that I found interesting, and that is the two elements of the lecture that dealt with the Bible, and it is that area I would like to briefly examine today.

When Jesus Christ was on trial before Pontius Pilate, part of their frustrating tete-a-tete included this revealing exchange, told in John 18:37-38: “Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.”” Interestingly enough, the lecture and Pilate themselves fail on the same ground of not understanding what truth is, at least truth in the way that Jesus Christ testified to it.

It is difficult for many people in contemporary society to recognize God’s truth because they did not, and cannot, come to it themselves. There are essentially two ways that truth can be found. Either that truth can be obtained from the ground up, or it can be obtained from the top down, by revelation. Few people, except for the most radical and solipsistic among us, deny the validity of truth that is uncovered from the ground up. This can be done a variety of ways, either through seeking enough data and evidence from the world to deduce conclusions from or whether we form models in our head and inductively apply them to the world around us, refining them based on our results. In both of these cases, we as the intelligent agents are the ones who are the discoverers of these truths, and so as long as we have some degree of faith in our bounded rationality and our capacity for correctly interpreting data and evidence (and most of us have at least some level of trust in our own competence in these matters, or trust in those who are specialists in data analysis and related skills), we do not see this sort of discovery of truth as illegitimate in the least.

The problem comes with revealed knowledge, and the fact that it comes from above. There are legitimate concerns about the use of revealed truth, given our ability to properly understand and interpret it, but these concerns out to make us more humble and appreciative of such wisdom. There is a deeper reason why our generation tends to be highly skeptical of such truth, even as science and medicine have greatly aided our ability to verify the purpose of many of the laws of God, including laws against incest or eating unclean foods or blood as well as quarantining or debt forgiveness or land sabbaths. Sadly, our greater ability to use truth from below to verify truth revealed from above has not given us an appreciation of the advantages of those truths in those areas where our understanding remains defective of the purpose and design of the universe. Instead of showing gracious appreciation of God for telling us thousands of years before we found out for ourselves, we act as if our abilities to discover more areas of truth from below mean that we no longer need to pay attention to revealed truth at all.

Yet this is a serious error. For one, as we have seen, the whole scientific enterprise with its dependence on rigorous mathematics as well as data and calculation and empirical verification, has been questioned seriously about its legitimacy on at least two different grounds. The illegitimate and solipsistic criticism of the inability of any verification or understanding of truth to be possible because of the unreliability of our abilities to see the world around us and make any kind of firm understanding cuts the ground from any sort of confidence in our abilities to understand and recognize truth at all. Those who hold to this view ought to be particularly humble in the face of our presumed state of infinite ignorance, yet this view is often accompanied by the most insistent and unmerited arrogance against those who seek to uncover those aspects of truth that are within our purview. On the other hand, all too easily science has found itself basing its worldview and even the definition of science on unsupported and illegitimate philosophical assumptions that have harmed its ability to recognize reality as well as recognize the legitimacy of other areas of study. Our edifice of conceptual schemes and models is only as strong as its foundation, and those who have built on a foundation of sand cannot reach the stars, no matter how noble or how mighty the effort.

[1] See some examples of this in my own writing:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/01/mathematical-proof-that-theres-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/no-variation-or-shadow-of-turning-calculus-in-the-bible/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/nobody-is-without-worth-an-examination-of-laplaces-tenth-principle/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-pseudoscience-of-naturalism-a-popperean-analysis-of-biologys-most-dangerous-assumption/

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Evil Friends

Last year a somewhat obscure album called “Evil Friends” came out, released by the alternative group Portugal The Man. At the time the album came out I was in a particularly sarcastic mood where I had wished to comment about the evil friends of friends who make life more complicated, as well as about one of the songs from that album in particular that was a moderate hit, “Purple, Yellow, Red, And Blue,” which included the catchy hook: “I just wanna be evil” repeated over and over again in the bridge. Since I don’t really want to be evil, I figured it would probably not be a good idea to spend a few hundred words on that particular subject. That said, I was reminded of the subject again today for an entirely different reason, and I thought it worthwhile to examine this subject from a different angle.

Every once in a while, as an observer of those around me, I get to see people being an obvious bad influence on others. For example, I happen to know quite a few people who go on occasional (or more than occasional) diets in the attempt to reduce their food intake enough to lose pounds and change their dress size. Since I work around a fair amount of women, it is not surprising that many of these women are somewhat dissatisfied with their weights and with goals for their weight loss that range from fairly to the extreme. Of course, I am generally a patient listener to such concerns, as I must admit that my weight has fluctuated mostly because of internal psychology as well as persistent digestive issues, rather than being the result of conscious effort. Since this is unlikely to make others very happy with me, I tend to retain a sense of polite silence, similar to my silence when people tell me about their shopping for feminine hygiene products or anything of that ilk.

Yet there is an aspect of these sorts of conversations that I do find of interest, and that is the influence that people have on others. People often choose to find company that relates to some aspect of their identity, about who they see themselves as or who they want to be. In my life I have found myself serving as a mentor of sorts to those who are seeking to develop certain talents and abilities, or with whom I share some passionate interest (music springs readily to mind). At other times I find that one makes friends because of a similar sense of being an outsider in a particular place, or an insider desirous of popularity and political power. At times we choose friends who can help encourage us to behave better, to learn better ways of dealing with life than we might have learned in our lives previously, while at other times we choose friends who are boon companions who share our vices and addictions but who we find to be ‘fun.’

When it comes to the attempt to do something that is desirable but not necessarily pleasant, one has to be very concerned about the quality of those we have around us. An alcoholic struggling for continence, for example, should not hang around in bars with his drinking buddies, as they are likely by their example and the context of the situation to spur on a relapse. Likewise, a person trying to lose weight should probably not seek the blandishments of others to get lots of sweets. We have to decide for ourselves whether we wish to be better, in which case we need to find people to spur us to improvement, or whether we prefer to be comfortable where we are, in which case we will find ourselves around people who sabotage our desires for improvement. Deciding on the company we keep to encourage us to good behavior is a matter of great importance, and one worth taking seriously.

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Aborted babies are being incinerated to provide electricity in the United States

nathanalbright:

It would be impious to add commentary, except to express my own horror.

Originally posted on The Matt Walsh Blog:

biohazard-bags

After reports a few weeks ago that aborted babies are burned to heat hospitals in the UK, today we get this:

The remains of aborted humans are being shipped to a US power facility, in order to provide electricity to Oregon residents.

The British Colombia Health Ministry has confirmed that ‘medical waste’ is sent to our country to be converted to electricity in waste-to-power plants. ‘Medical waste,’ in this brave new world of ours, includes amputated limbs, cancerous tissue, and the bodies of murdered children.

I don’t have any long tirade for you. I just need you to understand what’s happening here in your one nation under God. We are incinerating slaughtered babies so that we can charge our iPhones and power our televisions.

If we displace a few caribou to build a pipeline, or disadvantage a couple of dolphins to drill for oil, the public outrage cannot be contained. The cries of injustice…

View original 145 more words

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Book Review: The Good Dad

The Good Dad: Becoming The Father You Were Meant To Be, by Jim Daley with Paul Asay

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Book Look/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

At the core of this book is a mystery, or rather a series of mysteries, and one that I relate to well. It should go without saying that I am not a father at this time, and yet this is one of those books on marriage and parenting that I consider worthwhile to read as preparation for such an opportunity, should it come to pass [1]. Besides that mystery, why a single man would read this book at all, is the mystery of why a man whose childhood was so blighted by the absence of a father would become the successor to the legendary Dr. Dobson as the head of Focus On The Family and write such an eloquent and passionate ode to good fathering. It is not so mysterious that someone whose childhood was marked by abuse or the absence of a father would linger long and often in thoughts about the subject [2], but that poignant longing in the heart of the author is something I can relate to painfully well, and it gives this book a great deal of depth.

At its heart, this is a straightforward book that seeks to encourage men to take fatherhood seriously, even in the adverse circumstances of our culture, by showing love to children, providing encouragement, giving children fair and firm standards but also the freedom to fail and to develop their character and their persistence, and by providing instruction on the truth and godly virtue that lies within our hearts. Parenting is notoriously tricky business, very risky and hard to do right, and even if a parent does a good job the will of the child plays a major role in that success, which can be heartbreaking. At its heart this book contains a lot of stories of how the author was failed by an abusive and alcoholic father, by a stepfather who was overwhelmed by an inability to connect emotionally with his stepchildren, and by an eccentric foster family who took on children largely for a check from the state, along with stories that show the author’s own struggles to be a better father to his children than he ever knew. How I know that longing in my own heart.

The roughly 200 pages of text in this book deal with the subject of moments (those brief memorable incidents of family life), the look of a father, patching holes (dealing with dysfunctional backgrounds or addictions), nobody’s perfect (dealing with the inevitability of blundering and error), love and duty, reliability, providing enough time for children’s needs, learning and living together, getting messy, taking advantage of time before it is gone forever, and viewing family as the greatest of joys. Considering that our existence on this earth is part of God’s own family plan to raise many sons and daughters to glory, this book is right to focus on the joy of parenting as relating to the desire of God to nurture and increase His own family. This book urges, among its many important lessons (including the “tether of love” that connects parents and children when all else fails) is the lesson that fatherhood often involves the bravery to stand strong in small situations in the absence of those rare major crises, in the little moments where trust and love and self-respect are built in the lives of little ones. This is an encouraging book that ought to be read appreciatively, whether one is a father, or whether one squarely and honestly faces the father hunger one has known and wishes to help protect others from. It should go without saying that this book is full of wise statements quoted from the Bible, from other books, as well as worthwhile songs and movies, but it ought to be understood nonetheless.

[1] See, also:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/book-review-love-and-respect-in-the-family/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/book-review-under-the-rainbow/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/book-review-forgiving-our-fathers-and-mothers/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/book-review-jesus-my-father-the-cia-and-me-a-memoir-of-sorts/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/book-review-god-and-men-no-holds-barred/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/06/book-review-all-the-way-home/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/book-review-daughters-in-danger/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/book-review-man-of-steel-and-velvet/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/book-review-related-by-chance-family-by-choice/

[2] For example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/the-waiting-is-the-hardest-part/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-best-that-i-could-do/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/youth-without-youth/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/jungle-gym/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/the-difference-between-mocking-and-preparation/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/tyranny-is-a-school-from-which-no-one-is-ever-permitted-to-graduate/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/personal-profile-samuel-part-one-of-two/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/no-road-to-damascus/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/father-knows-best/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/father-hunger/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-curious-history-of-fathers-day/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/08/25/i-am-no-better-than-my-fathers/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/dance-with-my-father/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/honor-your-father-and-mother-that-your-days-may-be-long-upon-the-land/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/the-father-of-his-nation/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/this-is-my-fathers-world/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/bringing-many-sons-to-glory/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/never-been-to-scapoose/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/how-your-mother-met-me/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/no-child-is-a-mistake/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/lest-the-land-fall-into-harlotry/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/that-hypocrite-smokes-two-packs-a-day/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/well-begun-is-half-done/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/the-wheels-on-the-bus-go-round-and-round/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/sometimes-i-think-im-the-only-cab-on-the-road/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/ausente/

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For The Beauty Of The Earth

One of the earliest tasks of human beings given in the Bible is called the dominion mandate, and it is given for the first time in Genesis 1:26-28: “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This particular mandate, the first command of God to mankind, has a lot of relevance and implications to the political nature of environmentalism as it relates to the Bible.

In our world, environmentalism is related to a lot of heathen religion. For one, there is the connection one sees between the shamanism and paganism of more primitive tribes (see, for example, Disney’s “Pocahontas”) and much of the religious motivation of the modern environmentalist movement with its belief in mother earth and a type of pantheism that views all lives as being of equal worth. From this passage, we see clearly that mankind is created in the image of God, (specifically of both the One who became Jesus Christ and God the Father) as his viceroys over the earth to rule it and to be held accountable for that rule. For one, that means that “specisism” as it relates to mankind is part of the divine mandate of authority, but it also means that mankind is held accountable for how we rule over the earth and the creatures on it. Our authority is delegated authority, subject to the moral and legal restrictions that are present in scripture, which regulates the legitimate use of the earth.

In reflecting on the creation that God has made, one can witness clearly that God has a great love of curious and eccentric organisms. There is a great deal of ornamentation and humor and irony in creation, rather than a boring uniformity that is often associated with God’s ways by those who speak in ignorance and misguided hostility. Likewise, this diversity and complexity is what we see within human beings as well, a diversity that reflects God’s preference for variety. We would therefore see that God’s intent for mankind is to rule over creation in such a way that preserves diversity and that also provides rest for the land and the people who work it, being hostile to the centralization of wealth within the hands of selfish elites as well as the development of plantation slavery and export driven crop monoculture based on the exploitation of land and people, while also being hostile to a reverence of nature that crosses from proper respect and godly stewardship to worship.

And, since today is Earth Day, it is fitting to comment on the way in which our political worldview as a society shows a great deal of paganism in its practice, in giving more government honor to the earth than to the Creator of it. That said, the two sides of the dominion mandate themselves invite the judgment of God on a wayward and rebellious humanity. For one, the poor stewardship of the earth tends to lead to a great deal of misery and suffering, which invites God’s action to judge those who destroy the earth and who oppress the people on it. God’s granting of dominion to humanity is not a freedom to exploit it, but rather it is a granting of the earth as a place for mankind to learn responsibility and to handle power and deal with logistical realities as a way of improving our moral sense as well as the existence of ourselves and others. Likewise, the command to be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth would lead to God’s judgment because it implies that mankind will eventually run against limits; thus to seek to hold population steady or decrease it would tend to seek to deny the requirement of God’s justice and the time limit of mankind to rule over the earth before that judgment comes.

In looking at how God has given the earth over to the dominion of mankind, we see, as is common in scripture, a balancing tension between two extremes. On the one hand, we are not to abdicate our responsibility over nature by failing to subdue it and rule it according to God’s ways, but neither are we to think ourselves the owners and ultimate authorities over earth and the people on it either, but we are to recognize that we are subordinates to God, delegated authority by Him in order to improve our own capabilities as a result of skillful management of those parts of earth that are under our jurisdiction. Let us therefore rule wisely, neither being tyrants over the earth nor worshipers of the creation rather than the Creator. Let us develop our capacity to rule wisely in whatever realms where we have some nature of responsibility, while also learning from the restraints that are placed by God’s regulations about how we are to treat mankind and the creatures and human beings that are on it. Let our behavior on earth serve to the glory of God, rather than to our shame.

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Heartbeats

Today there was a very excellent split sermon to close the afternoon services for the Last Day of Unleavened Bread that dealt with the heart. Of particular interest was the examination of the electrical signal of the heart, and the way that brains tune in to the electrical field of the hearts of those around them. Since college I have known that I tend to have a more powerful electrical field than most people, with a corresponding lower electrical resistance, and I have always assumed that the brain was mainly responsible for this field, but it is possible that the heart and its sensitivity has a lot to do with it as well, which gives me much food for thought about the context of my life. This sensitivity may possibly relate to many other concerns as well, and that can help account for at least some of the immense complexity of my life.

For me, one of the most moving parts of the Harry Potter series of novels was near the end of the seventh novel, when Harry Potter bravely and doggedly marches towards what he thinks will be his death in order to break the power of the archenemy who has tormented him since he was a baby. Knowing that he must willingly let himself be attacked without defending himself in order to break his enemy’s power, he counts his heartbeats and reflects upon the bravery required to fulfill his purpose on earth. In counting his heartbeats, he wonders how many are left and how many have been wasted, and how often people take the number of their heartbeats for granted. In the end, of course, he does not die, but his gritty determination and bravery are nonetheless unusual, in that few people walk in such a way towards that which they believe may harm them greatly but that is ultimately the right thing to do for the sake of others and the world as a whole. It is easy to sacrifice others for utilitarian purposes, but a harder thing to sacrifice oneself.

The average number of heartbeats in the life of beings on this earth is about one billion heartbeats [1]. The faster a heart beats, the shorter a life. The slower the beating of a heart, the longer that heart can beat. This is not necessarily a hard and fast rule, as human beings are a notable exception to this rule (the average human life among industrialized countries is about two billion heartbeats, but the life in the most savage and backwards conditions is still close to one billion heartbeats in places like Afghanistan or Lesotho). Being a person who is somewhat given to anxiety and occasional panic attacks, I wonder how many of the heartbeats of my allotted life have been wasted in the fears and anxieties that have come about because of what my heart has had to remember, and my automatic responses to what happens around me. Seeing as the heart has been key in the death of many of the most recent deaths among close relatives, I have had to think deeply about the problems that result from a difficult and stressful life for my rather unlucky (and sometimes unwise) heart.

Also of particular interest from the message, given my own life, is the way that the heart communicates with the body through electrical signals, managing blood pressure, hormones, as well as access to the nervous system. It is easy for these methods of communication to go dangerously wrong. We can feel so much pressure that our internal communications end up killing ourselves. The hormones we create because of stress can wreck havoc on our internal organs, on our peace of mind, and can convince us that our surroundings are far more hostile to us than they would be if we did not have such a terrible life experience to draw on. Rather than simply being a matter of sentimentality, the healing and mending of a heart can be a matter of life or death, which ought to make us more tender and sensitive to the hearts of others, and ourselves.

[1] http://beholders.org/mind/scienceandfacts/124-1billionheartbeats.html

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Book Review: A Civil Campaign

A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold

As it would happen, I delayed my sleep last night to rather dramatic levels to finish reading this book, which ought not to be too surprising considering the fact that this particular novel has a lot of rather eerie parallels to my own life, with a happy and satisfying ending that everyone stuck in that kind of situation deserves. This novel picks up fairly shortly after the previous novel in the Miles Vorkosigan series, where Miles is seeking to get used to his role as Lord Auditor and dealing with competition for the hand of the self-effacing but immensely talented widow Ekaterina. The novel itself is full of complicated plans and plotting among various characters, most of whom (except for the obvious comic foils or villainous) end more or less successfully if not perfectly and certainly not easily.

This novel is a complicated one because of all of the plotting going on, the title of the book being a very delicate understatement for the atmosphere of intrigue that this novel is bathed in, intrigue that revolves mostly around the politics of romance and competition for title and position. These mutual intrigues, most of which are unsuccessfully kept from others throughout the course of the plot, often bounce off of each other in very complicated ways. Miles himself seeks to slyly and surreptitiously court Ekaterina by stealth, and manages to let everyone know except for the recent widow until she finds out in a spectacularly unsuccessful way, which sounds like something that would happen to me. Mark, Miles’ brother, has formed an intimate relationship with his beloved Kareena while they were both college students on socially permissive Beta, but finds things more difficult on far more conservative Barrayar. Ivan is upset at the lack of suitable attractive women to string along, and finds himself pulled into the plots of a former lover who has become a man in order to improve “his” chances at succeeding to a position as count. Meanwhile, another count finds himself with part Cetagandian ancestry and disqualified, all while the Emperor Gregor is dealing with his own upcoming marriage, Mark is involved in some complicated raids and business deals with an unsophisticated researcher, and Ekaterina is dealing with a complicated custody battle with her relatives over her son.

Among the most interesting parts of this fascinating and complicated novel are the difficulties of technology and law, the somethings yawning and tragic gap between reputation and honor (a gap I know all too well), and the way in which life is complicated by our mutual goals and ambitions and the often indirect means we use to seek what we want because we do not trust others to support our wishes directly and openly. Nevertheless, this particular novel shows in good moral form the difference between well-intentioned (or mixed-intention) blundering and diabolical attempts at manipulation, showing the costs of deviousness and trickery in spectacular form, that fortunately is not fatal for most of the characters in the novel. For those who enjoy complicated romantic hijinks and indirection on the level of Jane Austen’s Emma, and who enjoy romance sprinkled with elite politics as well as the building of friendships and characters with devotion to both the well-being of others as well as their own happiness, this is an enjoyable novel, even if some parts of it (okay, many parts of it) hit painfully close to my own life. Hopefully the ending will be as happy for me as it is with my dwarfish doppleganger in this novel; I suppose time will tell.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/book-review-komarr/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/book-review-memory/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/book-review-mirror-dance/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/book-review-brothers-in-arms/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/book-review-borders-of-infinity/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/book-review-cetaganda/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/book-review-the-warriors-apprentice/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/book-review-cordelias-honor/

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Kintsukuroi

large-kintsugi-bowl-16-by-4

Although I have never tried my skills at pottery, I am interested in pottery at least for symbolic reasons that I have thought about as the potential subject for a future sermonette, if I ever get the chance to give one. Rather than give my sermonette in detail, before its time, I thought it would be good to talk about a curious aspect of pottery that I consider to be of rather personal importance. Kintsukuroi is an unfamiliar term, but its meaning is rather straightforward: “to repair with gold.” It is a style of repairing broken pottery with gold (or silver) that shows us that what is repaired can sometimes be all the more precious for having been broken. As God is a master potter Himself, I am sure that is a sentiment that He shares given the way that we are treated as the work of His hands.

Why would a potter find pottery better when it has first been broken? The Bible itself is full of suggestive commentary about broken pottery. In Job 2:8 Job is afflicted with painful boils and he takes a piece of broken pottery to scrape himself with it while his wife urges him to curse God and die. Psalm 31:11-13 has a suggestive description of David as a piece of broken pottery in ways that I can relate to all too well: “I am a reproach among all my enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and am repulsive to my acquaintances; those who see me outside flee from me. I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel. For I hear the slander of many; fear is on every side; while they take counsel together against me, they scheme to take away my life.” It is certainly clear that God’s people, some of his most notable servants, saw themselves in the discarded pottery shards that fill the studies of contemporary biblical archeology.

Likewise, Leviticus 15:12 tells us that there is a distinction made between different kinds of vessels that have become corrupted through uncleanness. Vessels of wood could be rinsed with water, but vessels of pottery must be broken. For whatever reason, it was not possible to clean pottery vessels merely by washing, but they must be broken and then reformed together once again whole. We too are made whole by brokenness. When we partake of broken unleavened bread in the Passover ceremony of the renewed covenant, the broken bread is a symbol of the broken body of Jesus Christ, bruised for our transgressions and broken to pay the price of our sins, which required a perfect sacrifice that we could not give of ourselves or for ourselves. Likewise, those who are called to follow Christ will find themselves broken in innumerable ways and reformed into His image in ways that can scarcely be imagined or understood until long after the fact.

And, to the extent that we are cognizant of our own brokenness, we are often drawn to the brokenness of others. At times we may see the beauty of what was broken and then put together whole, beautiful if marred. At times we may be moved with great compassion by the suffering we see around us, especially if we have deep reservoirs of our own suffering to draw from, to remember what it was like to suffer the same way. In our brokenness we long to be put together whole, but in connecting the pottery together with gold, the potter does not seek to destroy all evidence of brokenness, but to turn that brokenness into an aspect of tremendous and unexpected beauty, a sign to the world that God sees our brokenness and desires to put it back together even more beautiful and precious than it was before, if we will only place ourselves into His dexterous and compassionate hands. Oh, that it were easier to trust those hands to fulfill our longings.

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Little Ones

Romans 1:18-21 gives us a rather chilling picture of those who suppress the truth of God’s character in what can be seen in creation: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” This is an unpleasant picture and can be used to describe a variety of matters (including the vain struggle of philosophers in the contemporary era [1]), but today I would like to put this focus into an area that is both familiar and unfamiliar, looking at a characteristic bias of God’s dealings with mankind and pondering what that bias ought to mean for our own perspective and conduct.

There is a marked bias in the Bible that is clear to anyone who investigates it closely, but which has tended to be noticed mainly by only a particularly biased group of liberal Christians who preach what is referred to as the social gospel, and whose characteristic bias is generally to neglect the importance of personal morality. Nevertheless, despite this bias, let us notice and appreciate what they do get right, and that is God’s particular attention to little ones. This attention is consistent throughout all of scripture, and marks a consistent aspect of His character that helps us to frame the way that we live our lives and that we approach others.

One thing we should note is God’s attention to unborn and very small children. Whether we are looking at Jesus’ command to his nonplussed disciplines not to forbid the little ones to come to Him, or His prophecy about the destinies of Esau and Jacob while they were in the womb, or his loving concern for the abandoned child of Israel in one of the more poignant prophecies of Ezekiel, or His statement to Jeremiah that before that prophet was born that God knew him, we see the same phenomenon, and that is God’s specific concern for little ones, concern that leads to His specific involvement in the lives and character of beings even from before their birth. Our understanding of God’s tender concern for little ones ought to lead us to abhor those things that murder or exploit or torment God’s little ones. It is not for nothing that Jesus warns us solemnly that anyone who causes a little one to stumble would be better off to be dropped in the sea with a millstone around one’s neck. This is not a light matter.

I have often wondered if God sees us similar to the way that we look at little ones. Since I was little myself, I have always been greatly intrigued by little beings, by their openness and vulnerability, by their silliness and randomness, and by the way in which they are so observant and watchful of the world around them, trying to understand what to do in light of the examples around them. Unlike many adults, apparently, I have not forgotten what it is like to be little, as I have never been allowed to forget what I felt like when I was small, and perhaps in this life I never shall. At any rate, it has given me a certain amount of empathy for those for whom their time as a little kid is something that they will enjoy or endure as best as they can, largely to be forgotten as they are in a hurry to grow up before their time and leave behind the fragile and doomed innocence of youth without having learned to appreciate it and treasure it first.

Yet God’s interest in little ones is not only when it comes to children (for we are all His little children, after all), but also in little peoples. Over and over again, to Israel’s uncomprehending ears, He speaks through prophets that He did not call Israel because they were a great and mighty people but He called an exploited nation of slaves whose ancestors had been wandering nomads to be His special people, to make them citizens of the greatest city of them all, the New Jerusalem. This is the same promise that He gave to the brethren in the New Testament church, to women who were looked down by the Jewish and Roman and Greek culture of the day, to slaves who were considered the property of others, and to Gentiles who longed to be accepted as legitimate believers of God, to whom God gave the same promise that he would turn the foolish, the weak, and the base and turn them into His own special peculiar people. Such are those whom God has always called, turning the outsiders into the ultimate insiders, because they have not forgotten what it is like to feel like a stranger and an outcast in a cruel world.

Even the birth of Jesus Christ was done with a particular attention to littleness. After a suitable and appropriate mother was chosen, a godly young woman who was engaged but not yet married, He was born in a little village far from the impressive areas of His time. Likewise, He grew up in Nazereth, a small town in the area of Galilee that had a bad reputation for collaborating with Romans that was looked down on even in Galilee, which was looked down by the cultured elites of Jerusalem, who were looked down as provincial religious nuts by the more cultured and sophisticated Hellenistic cities of the time. Jesus certainly did not plan His life with an eye towards biasing people towards viewing Him highly apart from the virtue of His character, and even being perfect and blameless, He was mocked for being illegitimate, constantly suffering the cuts of character assassination and slander and rumors and lies, which at times motivated Him to righteous indignation.

Even this earth is itself a modest-sized planet surrounding a star that is not particularly impressive in a somewhat backwater area of a pretty ordinary galaxy. When mankind began to greater understand the cosmos, it became fashionable to denigrate God’s providential design for mankind and this earth because of its ordinary and inconsequential nature. Yet if people had better understood the way that God worked in humanity according to His revealed word, it would have made even more sense for God’s attention to little things and backwards places as extending all the way up from the individual level to the level of cosmology. Yet human beings, have always thought that it was the massive or the important that would be the most impressive, than recognizing that God likes watching things grow, likes seeing little mustard seeds turn into spacious homes for little birds, and likes seeing little ones grow up without becoming wise in their own eyes, always remembering what it is like to be small, with all of our infinite longings and limitless wonder.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/book-review-no-one-sees-god/

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Just My Luck

During the mid-2000′s, I watched a lot of very bad movies, and a few really good ones too. One of the really bad movies starred Lindsey Lohan and Chris Pine, and it was called “Just My Luck.” The basic premise of the movie, which did not make a lot of sense, was that Lohan’s character, an attractive ginger socialite named Ashley Albright, was one of the luckiest people in the world, but when she kisses the handsome but sad-sack and down-on-his-luck character that Chris Pine plays (named Jake Hardin), who happens to be trying to promote the Brit-pop band McFly (who seem like friendly enough blokes), she gives her luck to him [1]. The rest of the movie finds the two of them swapping kisses and discovering that there is apparently only enough good luck in the universe so that one of them can be really lucky and the other spectacularly unlucky. While that makes no sense at all, it is not an unsuitable way to describe today for me.

As I figured going into today, today was a long and busy day. I began the day by getting up after a reasonable night’s sleep and doing some writing. Both last night’s entry [2] and this morning’s entry [3] deal with my own regrets about the lack of communication between my brother and I. I tend to find life frustrating when there is no open communication, and there are definitely some regrets about the distance and estrangement my brother and I have had between us. I’m sure that both of us wish that we could know that the other sees us for who we are, and not as who they thought we were a long time ago. Trust takes time to build up, and tends to be fragile, and when people do not feel safe being themselves for fear of being attacked or ridiculed or treated sarcastically, it can be a difficult matter to overcome. That said, life is too short to cut off anyone who is on our side and not hostile to our best interests at all.

After getting ready for services I left because there was an early choir practice for the piece that we are doing on the Last Day of Unleavened Bread in the afternoon. The usual crowd was there in roughly the usual order, and I ended up collecting a fair amount of the music from our last performance to return to the choir director. After a pretty good practice, and some conversation, there was a very intriguing Bible study from our local pastor about the deeper meanings of leavening (and being puffed up) that are found in the Epistles as well as the Gospels. After an hour of a bit of eating and more talking, there were some brief messages, including one by one of our older deacons about spiritual diabetes (poignant because he has diabetes and it came up later in the memorial service for one of our recently deceased elderly ladies [4], who also struggled with the condition) and a split sermon by our pastor on the probability of someone being able to fulfill even eight prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures that Jesus Christ did as Savior. I gave the closing prayer, which was mostly well-received.

The memorial was very short, and I had some babysitting duty during it, which was odd, to say the least (from what I can gather, my babysitting duty throughout the day appears to have been turned into photos that ought to be enjoyed by my Facebook friends, at any rate, in the near future). It was, to be sure, a somewhat odd experience for me. For one, I did not know Becky that well, and there were a lot of her friends and family (especially family) who showed up for the memorial service that was a trip down memory lane for other people and complete strangers to me. Many of them, as could be expected, were from one or the other Church of God groups, which is striking how people who know each other that well (it would seem) for that long can have nothing to do with each other except for funerals and perhaps weddings. We should not let ourselves be cut off from others who are mostly in agreement with us. Even if matters of politics or personality keep us from walking together, there is no need to throw out years of good times and to not have anything to do with someone else on such grounds. Life is too short to waste it in petty feuds.

In the evening, my luck too a decidedly negative turn. For dinner, I and a couple of friends (who happen to have a basketball team worth of small children between them) ended up deciding on a whim to head off to a Mongolian BBQ restaurant, and by chance we happened to see one off of a particular major road, and we stopped in to eat, with me taking care of one of the girls involved to lower costs for everyone else (since each adult could allow one child to eat for free). As it would happen, a few minutes after we arrived, as we were sorting out the payment, a group of teenagers came in that included one teenager who I am strang verboten (that is, strictly forbidden) from having any contact with whatsoever by a parent. Since our mutual arrivals were not planned at all under any circumstances by me, and it did not seem as if they were planned by the group of younger people as well, the two groups acknowledged the strange coincidence of our meeting and then proceeded to eat, leaving me with an awkward matter to ponder over.

After a scenic and only somewhat pokey route from the restaurant to pinochle, my run of bad luck for the evening continued. I ended up getting suck at the bottom table all night long, but had just a few too many points to win the booby prize for the worst player, although I was not very far off of that prize. By the end of the night I was definitely flagging as far as having enough alertness to keep track of which players scores I was adding, which certainly did not help matters. Winning the last game only served to keep me from ‘winning’ last place, as the late start on this apparent final pinochle party of the season [5] consigned us to only playing four rounds instead of the usual five or six. As it was, I got home near midnight with a lot of pondering to do about the nature of life and communication and a luck that seems so bad it could only be planned by someone else with a much better sense of humor than me.

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0397078/?ref_=nv_sr_1

[2] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/brother-against-brother-a-civil-war-story/

[3] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/hey-brother/

[4] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/sudden-death/

[5] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/i-am-number-seventeen/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/let-the-games-begin/

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