Monday, July 31, 2017

On Apple Music

So The Ravishing Mrs. TB, in an initial "free trial" which accidentally extended itself, subscribed to Apple Music.

It is amazing.

At the touch of my fingers, I have virtually every song I ever listened to from 1977 to 1989.

I know.  If you are young, you are laughing at this.  If you are old, you get it.

Imagine ("Sherman, set the Wayback Machine") a time where you do not have access to all music everywhere.  You have access to the music you own.  If you are lucky, you have cassette player, on which you can record music as played on the radio or on a "record"  (hang with me here, people).  The radio stations you listen to (KRXQ or KFOG or 104.1, whatever that stations was) only seldom announce what the next song is.  If you really like a song, you find yourself turning the dial (Literally.  It was a dial.  No metaphor there.) or maybe hitting the "memory" buttons from station to station, trying to find a song you like and are looking for (with that damnable wire that passed for an antenna climbing the wall behind your combination record player/dual cassette player/radio unit).  If you are trying to record a song, it is worse:  you sit there poised with your hand over the "Record" button, hoping to capture the song at the beginning of it so you get the whole thing - if not, your recording starts at the 20 second moment and you just cut into it.

But now, that is all changed.  Any song I want - any one (to date) that I desire is there for my listening pleasure.  Crystal clear quality.  In many cases, the whole album too - so even the songs that did not get as much air time are there as well.

Is it better? I am not sure.  Honestly, having all of it at fingertips is overwhelming.  I switch from song to song to song and listen to each - but having all of them there makes it less, I do not really know, interesting in a way.  There was something to the patience of waiting or listening to different artists (you never now have to do this if you do not want) or even owning the actual album (instead of the individual song) that seems to have made the whole experience more magical.  For a fact, the way I listen to songs and the radio now is much different than back in the day.

On the one hand, it is somewhat fun reliving my youth through song:  hours spent at my friend's, rolling dice in role playing games and making plans we never really intended to carry out.  On the other hand, now that I have all of this at my fingertips, the magic is gone:  I have the power of selection, but that very power seems to have denied me of the joy I once had.

Friday, July 28, 2017

On Reactions And Personal Change

So, the adventure of how I got to where I completely changed my view of myself.

Last week at the conference we attended,  one of the sessions - a couple - did a down and dirty Myers-Briggs evaluation (For those that do not know, Myers-Briggs is a personality assessment of tool of long standing.  Your Mileage May Vary.).  It was not so much the test itself as an evaluation of you against someone you knew - for many there, including myself, my spouse.

The outcome?  For years - 35 or more - I have thought of myself as an Introvert iNtuitive Feeling Perceptive (INFP) - the creative, thoughtful, deep type (and introverted - I consistently peg the Introvert items at the end of the scale). But as we went through the exercise, there were points at which I move one way and the comment I got was "Really?  You do not act that way".  Which, of course, got me thinking about how I perceive myself and how I act.  I started to move on the continuum  less by what I thought about myself and more by how I act (which, after all, is the real indicator of things).

The result?  My INFP was more like an Intuitive Sensing Feeling Judging (ISFJ) - much more common of course (1% of the population versus 13%), but not all bad.  Just different.  Very very different from how I had perceived myself.

Yes, I know these things vary and yes, I know they are only approximations and yes, I know that they all have flaws.  But single biggest thing in making a change in my thinking was how the person that has known me for 25 years reacted to my choices.  In some cases complete agreement, in other cases complete surprise.

Enough surprise to give a man reason to reconsider.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dogged and Methodical

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

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

It turns out that is probably not true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Unable To Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Emotional Disconnection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mastering The West: Rome and Carthage At War

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

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

I was quite pleasantly surprised.

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

On A Burden

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Visit With Uber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Brief Out And About

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017


Tonight was tameshigiri (test cutting).

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017


I have come to hate the word "we".

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

300 Lbs.

Yesterday afternoon I squatted 300 lbs.  Twice.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Visit To Fry's

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Longing and Desire

I wonder sometimes
why longing's bitterest pain 
is less than desire?

Friday, July 07, 2017

On Sin

Sin is delicious.

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

It is exhilarating.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 06, 2017

On The Practice Of Holiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Second Great Age of Evangelism of the West?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

July 4 2017 - The Declaration of Independence

 The Declaration of Independence

The Annual Post.  Because it matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

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

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

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 03, 2017

Letter To A Young Farmer: A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They, being dead, yet speak.