Friday, December 31, 2010

The Bible

Every word of God is flawless...
Proverbs 30:5
In 2009, I read through the entire Bible in a quick reading 90 day program. It was fast and at times felt like skimming. However, it provided some great overview & big picture thinking. In 2010, I was able to read through the entire Bible over the course of the year (thanks Central). It was slower and at times felt like I was forcing my way through. However, it provided daily insight, encouragement and wisdom as well as the satisfaction of reading cover to cover. Reading the Bible, much like reading history, just reminds me of how little I know. There is so much truth packed into it and instruction for daily living that I simply just miss. However, I will continue to plug away. 2011 will bring some new readings of 'stuff' I have already read. And yet, like always, it will inspire and challenge me without fail. Take the plunge and start reading the Bible. You'll never know where it will lead you.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 In Books

"Every man who knows how to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting." -Aldous Huxley-
2010 was a great year in a variety of ways. One of my favorite parts of it was the amount of reading I was able to accomplish. It was a fun year of gaining knowledge, expanding my horizons, and learning so much that I had not previously known.

From Leonardo da Vinci to Marcus Tullius Cicero. From the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge to the race for the polio vaccine. From the corrupt William Tweed to the corrupt & struggling Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. From presidential wannabe William Jennings Bryan to the actual presidencies of Woodrow Wilson, John Adams and FDR. I learned of the genius of Thomas Edison to the folly of Renaissance Popes, British leaders in the 18th century and American leaders during Vietnam. Or the Brown Brothers and their story in early Rhode Island history. George Washington and his slaves had a very interesting history as did the men of the early 20th century in charge of the world banking system. The War of 1812 continues to interest me and I have taken on a new fascination with New York City after reading so much about it. The thinkers of the Metaphysical Club helped spur my love of philosophy while I contemplated why Americans struggle so much with ourselves. Without avoiding my faith, I was encouraged to have a crazy love for God while trusting in an absolute naked salvation. My struggles with how church should be were challenged and my fight against doubt was reassured. And finally, I found time to invest in some fiction which helped excite my imagination in Tinkers, Gilead, The Road, Chesapeake, and Anthem.

The best part was knowing that my pursuit of knowledge and passion for learning were futher inflamed. It is an endless road with so many more subjects, ideals, myths, figures, time periods, and adventures to explore. It is nice knowing I haven't even scratched the surface yet. Page after page, hour after hour - the investment was worth it. I look forward to what 2011 will bring.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The god of I

I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction...It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect...Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: "I will it!"...Whatever road I take, the guiding star is within me; the guiding star and the loadstone which point the way. They point in but one direction. They point to me...I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose.
Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), 87-88.
This was perhaps the most disturbing portion of Ayn Rand's book. Having escaped the clutches of his culture, Equality 7-2521 experiences "freedom" and lands on fulfilling his own personal happiness as the key to life. Goal & purpose were fulfilled in him choosing for himself the fulfillment of his own personal gain. I was blown away at the pure selfishness displayed by the character. Although I can identify with the abuse that a we-based collectivist society could bring to the dearth of individual freedom; it is also wrong to blatantly worship "I". Everything pointing to "me" is no way to see the world. Eventually this can only lead to self-reliance and self-worship. True love has no place in that world - as the needs and focus cannot possibly be extended beyond the realm of oneself. This is the key argument against Rand's belief in objectivism. Everything in that realm is based upon the "I" which has way too many fallacies to support itself. Can one truly trust in themselves and make decisions based upon their own selfish wants and desires and really turn out solid decision making? Its the essence of capitalism once again. That in retaliation to state control, all control is given to the individual with some laissez faire belief that in the pursuit of self we can really benefit society as a whole. I just cannot buy it. The worship of self will always lead to destruction - no matter how much pleasure & happiness it might seem to promise.

To Us Alone

There is no life for men, save in useful toil for the good of all their brothers. But we lived not, when we toiled for our brothers, we were only weary. There is no joy for men, save the joy shared with all their brothers. But the only things which taught us joy were the power we created in our wires, and the Golden One. And both these joys belong to us alone, they come from us alone, they bear no relation to our brothers, and they do not concern our brothers in any way. Thus do we wonder.
Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), 76.
I continue to be amazed at how much Ayn Rand pushes the doctrine of personal satisfaction as the goal of life. And yet as much as I want to argue with her, she brings up a valid point. What are the things that truly bring us "life" and "joy"? Are they not the things which satisfy ourselves and fill our own cups? Do the things that contribute to society as a whole really bring us greater joy then the things we do which satisfy ourselves? What is the balance needed between working hard and spending time on things which bring us personal joy and those things which contribute to "our brothers" around us? Is it possible to concentrate on the things which bring us greatest joy - and have those things 'trickle down' to those around us?

I have a hard time agreeing with her point of wonder, and yet I can understand where it is coming from. Many things that I like to do (reading, running, naps, etc) are for myself. Does this make them wrong? Perhaps what is necessary is to strive to find the balance of filling ourselves while remembering that to love one another is our greatest contribution. God certainly wires us to love certain activities - so it cannot be wrong to indulge in them. But when our focus becomes completely on ourselves we lose touch with reality.

Transgression of Preference

International 4-8818 and we are friends. This is an evil thing to say, for it is a transgression, the great Transgression of Preference, to love any among men better than the others, since we must love all men and all men are our friends. So International 4-8818 and we have never spoken of it. But we know. We know, when we look into each other's eyes. And when we look thus without words, we both know other things also, strange things for which there are no words, and these things frighten us.
We do not wonder at this new sin of ours. It is our second Transgression of Preference, for we do not think of all our brothers, as we must, but only of one, and their name is Liberty 5-3000. We do not know why we think of them. We do not know why, when we think of them, we feel of a sudden that the earth is good and that it is not a burden to live. We do not think of them as Liberty 5-3000 any longer. We have given them a name in our thoughts. We call them the Golden One. But it is a sin to give men names which distinguish them from other men. Yet we call them the Golden One, for they are not like the others. The Golden One are not like the others.
"If you see us among scores of women, will you look upon us?" "We shall look upon you, Liberty 5-3000, if we see you among all the women of the earth."

Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), 15, 26, 28-29.

One of the most interesting parts of the Anthem was the sin or transgression of preference. The people in the were commanded and forced into never choosing anyone above anyone else. Friendships were not allowed. Sex become a once-per-year ritual simply to procreate. And people were conditioned simply to live in complete equality. No favoritism. No choice. And I found myself all of a sudden arguing against complete equality. I like the trangression of preference. I am guilty of it on a daily basis. My kids mean far more to me than any other kids. My friends are incredibly important to me and I am far more likely to go out of my way for them then others. My wife is the most incredible woman on Earth to me. I want to choose her every single day. She is my "Golden One" and I have no qualms with choosing her above every other female day after day. Equality & no favoritism look and sound good. And yet reality shows that when given the choice, we all violate the transgression of preference.

Is it really bad then to violate equality? When do the constraints of equality interfere with the necessity of free choice? Is the violation of this transgression inevitable and are we (in reality) okay with it?

Common Good?

I shall merely point out that the slogan 'Production for use and not for profit' is now accepted by most men as a commonplace, and a commonplace stating a proper, desirable goal. If any intelligible meaning can be discerned in that slogan at all, what is it, if not the idea that the motive of a man's work must be the need of others, not his own need, desire or gain?
'Social gains,' 'social aims,' 'social objectives' have become the daily bromides of our language. The necessity of a social justification for all activities and all existence is now taken for granted. There is no proposal outrageous enough but what its author can get a respectful hearing and approbation if he claims that in some undefined way it is for the 'common good.'
The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one's eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: 'But I didn't mean this!'
Ayn Rand, Anthem, (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1995), v-vii.
I recently finished Ayn Rand's book Anthem. I am doing my best to process that which she was trying to communicate when she first published the story in 1946. The above section comes her own personal foreward to the story of Equality 7-2521 and his quest for meaning & freedom. My next few posts will deal with the story itself.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Drink Your Milkshake

"Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction." -Erich Fromm-

I finally watched the 2007 movie There Will Be Blood. I had heard a lot about it, and it starred one of my favorite actors (Daniel Day-Lewis) so I decided to sit down and watch it today. The film was completely fantastic. One of the better movies I have seen. It was gruesome, gut-wrenching, dark, and emotional. I found the darkness & drama of the characters a spot on match for the historical time of the film as well as my own inner darkness of greed & ambition.

The concept of the destruction of greed was laid out so perfectly throughout the film. We see how it strips a man of his sense of character and forces an ambition that drives everyone else away. The utter loneliness caused by the greed forces the main character through a series of movements each of them alienating the man further and further. The grip of ambition becomes the driving force in his life, his idol to cling to and worship. We see the descension into the dark abyss of nothingness by a man all alone.

If you are into dark films that are very powerful - I highly recommend this one.

The Plight of the Poor

Josephine Shaw Lowell now agreed that the plight of the poor was 'not due usually to moral or intellectual defects on their own part, but to economic causes over which they could have had no control, and which were as much beyond their power to avert as if they had been natural calamities of fire, flood or storm.'
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), Kindle Location 28569-71.
Lowell was a Progressive Reform Leader in the late 19th century. Much of her work was based upon the poor inhabitants of New York. At the time, many people considered those who were poor to have gotten their based upon their own poor choices. Many Christians claimed their sins had led them to a place of poverty while those in the business community claimed they lacked the intellectual capabilities to move beyond their state of pauperism. Either way, the poor of society were often left with little pity and meaningless handouts or exit strategies from their condition. Lowell's statement is critical, then, because it points out the potential idea that many suffering people had reached their state not by choice but by the economic choices of the wealthy. Hence the raw issue of captalism - there will be people with great wealth, but it will come at the cost of the class of poverty.

How do we combat the plight of the poor? What strategies must be in place - and how do we deem them successful? Part of the biggest struggle seems to be the mindset of those who are not poor. Ideas, schemes, and plans are laid out by people who have no concept of how people without anything feel. Our bigotry of why people are poor and what causes them to continue in poverty taints our ability to help. It is very difficult to come to grips with the notion that some people do not have the freedom or opportunity to do anything beyond remaining in the squalor and chains of their poor economic condition. It truly is the mindset barrier that remains the obstacle needing to be overcome. The goal then becomes changing how we think before we develop a system for fighting against the cruel grip of impoverishment. A proper way of thinking will eliminate our need to dispense charity and focus on helping our fellow people as equals.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Tragedy of Hate

Dealing with cancer cannot be in any shape or form easy. Finding out that your cancer has spread and no amount of drugs or treatment will be able to spare your life is absolutely awful.

Dealing with a spouse has has cheated on you violating every ounce of trust cannot be in any shape or form easy. Finding out about the extramarital affair along with the rest of America is absolutely awful.

Elizabeth Edwards died on December 7th. The last stretch of her life perhaps the hardest. Whether or not you agree with her politics is besides the point. She was a human being. She cared for people. People cared about her. An estranged husband, children, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, parents, and numerous friends are all left without her now.

As if this were not hard enough, today comes the news that Westboro Baptist Church has decided the best course of action is to picket her funeral in protest of her life, viewpoints, and stances. REALLY?! That organization thinks the best way to represent God is by picketing a woman's funeral. What will it accomplish? How will that tell the world about hope & love? How can picketing the funeral really be of benefit? What a dark day in human history when a group claiming to represent the hope of the world has chosen themselves to promote hate & darkness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Tribalism provided camaraderie, protection, identity, and also a sense of being in charge, something increasingly hard to come by in the workplace. Many gang members were technically "apprentices" or "journeymen," but few harbored any hope of becoming a "master." Jobs seldom gave a worker status or a chance to display skill. And if being a waged employee diminished one's sense of autonomy and control, being fired devastated it. The panic [of 1837] had mad painfully clear that the new economic order could pitch a worker into desperate poverty, virtually overnight. Security and self-esteem were best pursued elsewhere. After work a butcher, tailor, or cartman could doff his smock, apron, or overalls, don colorful gang regalia, rendezvous with his comrades, and regain at least the illusion of being in control of his life, of being a man among men.
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), Kindle Location 15346-52.
It is utterly fascinating reading about the development of the gangs of New York City in the 19th century. Scores of men joined together in like-minded groups to represent their own interests and feelings. From nativisit groups to Irish immigrant groups, these men often rallied around particularly hot topics. Interestingly enough, the groups (including those of poor and highly mistreated African Americans) had far more in common then they would have liked to admit. Yet because of the squalor-like conditions they were forced into; it became a feeding frenzy on who would be kings of the lower classes. (It could easily be argued that the laissez-faire politics and economics of the rich & powerful were most responsible for the rise of these groups.)

What is most intriguing though is the need for tribalism that everyone has. Security, self-esteem, identity, and a general sense of control all came from being a part of a gang. The economic forces prevented self-worth from developing in the workplace, thus the rise of gangs in the 19th century. Obviously the gangs had many issues (not the least of which was the intense & bitter racism that developed amongst themselves) - but it is easy to see why the associations formed. Men in particular find such value and worth in their vocation. What can possibly fill that void when work becomes non-existent or at the very best a wage-earning day in & day out boring routine?

My question is what can we do in society to foster healthy associations? If tribalism is as natural as history shows it to be (and I would argue can have tremendous value) - how can humanity channel it into more productive groupings? When a man has no hope of "making it" because his job, life, or circumstances prevent it; what can be done to help him find worth? In other words, is it possible to nurture the growth of gangs whom are focused on the actual building up of individuals & society as a whole? If yes, how? If no, then what can be done about the situation?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

For God's Glory

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
John 9:1-3
Today's message @ church was based upon the question of why bad things happen to people if God is so incredibly loving and is in full control. Since God is in control, He then either makes things happen or at the very least allows them to happen. So when we are confronted with sad, horrifying, and evil events in this world - we must ask - why God would do them or why God would allow for them to happen. One of the points the pastor made was that sometimes God allows for things to happen in order that He might be glorified through them. In other words, some tragic events lead to the glorification of God.

Which brings us to the blind man from John 3. The text does not say how old this man is - but whatever his age, he had been blind from birth. Jesus explains that his condition is not a result of sin - but simply an opportunity for God to be glorified. Jesus could work a miracle & God's work would be shown. Of course this is a great story - and it does show God's glory & might. Yet how would you like to be the blind guy? He lived all of his life unable to see simply so Jesus could show off God's work at that point in time. Why did God pick him to be blind? Why does God choose any of the situations we all find ourselves in that are out of our control? I would hope that the man would be eternally grateful for Jesus performing that miracle in his life - but wouldn't he rather have simply been able to see his whole life?

When dealing with the struggles & hardships in our life it is easy to think that it would simply be better for God's glory to be displayed without us having to be the projects upon which he uses His ability to do miracles. Yet as I have read this story as well as countless others, I have come to the conclusion that I am far too humanistic in my thought process. As much as I try, I cannot get over the fact that I simply put too much stock in humanity. All of creation was designed to bring God glory - even people. As much as I want to bring this story back to the blind man - or bring my own struggles and problems back to myself - the real story is God. We dwell too often on what we think, feel, and understand without realizing the story is never about us.

So although I am sure that man would have taken sight from birth and God's work to be displayed in a number of other ways it could have been, it wasn't up to that man or to us as listeners of the story. God has a plan, God executed His plan, and that man as well as myself have to simply be thankful to be a recipient of God's grace & glory.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Go Devils

Fork 'em Sparky.