My Tens of Thousands

I’m an observant person. I’m introspective and extrapolative. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the world really is, and how that information should affect my decisions. I call this careful consideration my “governing intellect” — not that it does a ton of governing. It ends up being more a source of guilt (that I don’t follow my reason) than a helpful tutor. But still, I sometimes heed its advice — and sometimes to my own detriment.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, the Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side.” I’m not a proud man. I went and I sat. The man had some interesting things to say.

I have always lived a charmed life. This has manifested in mundane ways (a happy, prosperous family environment, an upbringing with a strong emphasis on education, and an inborn talent with the written word), and in ways mystical (I’ve never lost real money in a game of poker).

I’ve long recognized this effect in my life, and rarely taken it for granted. I remember reading the Odyssey early in high school and recognizing an easy familiarity with Odysseus, beloved of Athene. He was clever and careful, but even so, he had help. Things ever fell his way. So also with me.

In our own lore there’s another like him, and I’ve also often compared myself to King David. Chosen and blessed, set apart to do great things, I had nothing to fear from even the mightiest of enemies. That became my refrain. I can’t count the times I’ve whispered under my breath, “Lord, let me pass unseen through the camp of my enemies.”

He took me aside recently, though, and reprimanded me. That has been too much my attitude. When a university-level teaching job fell into my lap — money we sorely needed and an opportunity many people invest years of their lives just to apply for — I spent days and weeks and months just worrying, just hoping that I could survive. I just wanted to get through it, hopefully without drawing any attention to myself, and make it to December in one piece.

Oh humble yes, he said, but humble son of God!

There is so much more to David than the slinking thief, discreetly hemming his king’s old cape. An heir is made not just to survive, but to reign. I’ve spent years hiding in my dirty cave, with nary an adversary on the plains below. Anointed and appointed, spending all my gracious charms on nervous getting by, when my role is so much greater. I should be capturing cities to swell my empire. I should be conquering to preserve my name, and to lift up the names of my sons. I’ve spent long enough as a shepherd, I should long since have become a king.

That failing is on me. The opportunities to rise up are always there — served up to me on royal finery, and squandered in my timidity even as I proclaim that I’m trembling in fear of the Parable of the Talents. The Lord said to my governing intellect, “Come and sit by my side, and we’ll make cautious reason our footstool, because there are far more interesting things going on than your boring old reality.”

I can’t wait to see my Jerusalem.

Journal Entry: August 10, 2009

I really only listen to music when I’m in my car, driving back and forth to work, so I’ve never developed very refined tastes. For the most part, I listen to hip hop stations. One thing you encounter with pop radio stations like that is a pretty small selection of music with heavy repeats. At any given time, there’s probably a library of six to ten hip hop songs getting played on the radio. The turnover is pretty quick, but you’re just not going to hear anything from the back catalog.

I’ve got the presets on my radio ordered by my preference (with the sixth and final preset dedicated to NPR). This morning on the drive in to work a commercial came on my number one station, and I punched all the way through to five before I found music playing. Five happens to be a country station that advertises its selection as “today’s top country.”

The song on the radio was Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee,” which is a song I really liked back when it first came out seventeen years ago. That’s today’s top country. I guess they’re ruling out Johnny Cash’s old stuff, and anything by Hank Williams, Sr.

Still, after that song went off I got to hear one called “God is Great, Beer is Good, and People are Crazy.” That one made me smile.

Last Friday I got off work a little bit early (as I often do on Fridays), so that left me a couple hours at home before I was supposed to head over to B– and E–‘s place. I spent it edging the yard.

See, we’ve only got an electric weed eater, and it’s the cheap sort with the stupid flimsy plastic string that’s constantly snapping and requiring field maintenance, so I really only edge the yard about once a year — when the grass along the front curb is hanging majestically out over the street and providing willowy shade to cars that pass beneath. Then I gear up for an afternoon of edging, and spend forty-five minutes hacking through the trunks of the fescue.

So I did that last Friday. It was hot Friday, and I did this around four in the afternoon, so just all around poor planning. Still, the yard looks pretty good now.

After that I got cleaned up and headed over to B– and E–‘s place, where we discussed dinner plans and (far more important) drinking plans. I floated the idea of some O. G. Diddies (the same vodka, grape, lemonade drink that we all learned to rue last Poker Night), and B– and E– were game, so we stopped by the grocery store on our way to pick up the pizza.

The drinks were a hit, the pizza was delicious, and while we were enjoying both, B– broke out the new Wii Sports Resort. I watched them play some (because I was ravenous), and then when E– tried throwing a Frisbee, I just had to try it out. I did about as well at that as I would’ve done in real life (which is to say, very poorly), so that left me impressed with the hardware.

Then I tried out the Samurai Showdown mode of swordfighting, which has you charging into a horde of sword-wielding Miis who surround you and then politely attack you one at a time. In true Samurai-movie fashion, you get to mow them down en masse. So much fun. I wore myself out playing that.

Then I decided to try out the archery mode, and had a lot of fun with that, too. Then B– challenged me to some pick-up basketball, and I did about as well as you’d expect. That is to say, I lost. Badly. I didn’t score a single point. Yay.

After that we turned off the Wii and turned on Tropic Thunder because, even though B– and E– had already seen it, they’d always wanted to see it with me. How cool is that? Halfway through I started pointing out that it’s really just a remake of The Three Amigos (and, at last, to audience familiar enough with The Three Amigos that they could actually get this), and of course that knowledge blew their minds. Fun stuff.

Anyway, after the movie we spent some time talking, so it was 2:15 before I got home. Somehow I managed not to be a complete idiot RE: consumption of alcohol, but I still didn’t feel like going to sleep when I got home, so I stayed up for another hour or two playing Fallout.

Saturday morning I woke up at 10:30 and mowed the lawn, which took about twice as long as expected because we’ve spent most of the last week with high temperatures and heavy rain, so the grass has flourished. Anyway, I got that done, got cleaned up, and somehow it was already time to head to Wichita. I packed in a hurry, cleaned up the house just a little bit so T– wouldn’t have to come home to total chaos, and then ran up to Edmond to pick up my brother-in-law.

I got to drive the new Vue, which was sweet.

On the way north, we listened to the Lonely Island CD, and then spent an hour and a half discussing the premise for Burn Jump, and just how much effort I was going to spend appeasing the fickle interests of general relativity, causation, and basic physics. Conclusion: not much.

We got to T–‘s house just after four, and after a happy reunion with wives and baby daughters, we talked with Mom and Dad and the Charboneaus for a while, then headed to the church for “dinner and entertainment.”

I rode with Mom and Dad, and we spent most of the drive there discussing social anxiety disorder and specific management techniques. Then we showed up and I almost immediately forgot everything we’d talked about. The fellowship hall was packed, and there were so many half-remembered faces in the crowd, and really all I wanted to do was leave.

Dinner was a catered spread featuring sliced brisket, and as I filed through the line to fill my plate, I talked to four or five old family friends. Then halfway down the table, with my back turned to the tables full of people, I was suddenly overcome. My head started spinning, I couldn’t breathe, and I thought for sure I was going to pass out. I did as Dad had suggested, focusing on calming breaths while I made my way to the end of the line, and then discovered that Mom had picked out a table in the far back corner. So that helped a little. By the time I sat down, I felt almost normal again.

That was really the worst of it. Some friends stopped by our table to say hi, and a couple of them sat down with us, but with my sister’s family and my parents, we had the table mostly full already. After dinner everyone headed to the auditorium for a special presentation of all the former ministers (which included my Dad). I stayed out in the foyer with my sister and brother-in-law for most of that, though, flipping through some photo albums they’d put out. Most of the pictures were of my time in the youth group, and they were rich with memories. Honestly, those thirty minutes looking through photos made the whole thing worthwhile.

I did finally join Mom and Dad in the auditorium in time for a poorly-conceived Westlink Church of Christ History Jeopardy, which was more entertaining by its floundering than by design. I don’t mean that in a mean-spirited way, because the hosts took it all in stride, and Gary (the pulpit minister for as long as I’ve known Westlink) has always had a charming knack for laughing off little mistakes.

When we got in the car to head home Dad asked me about my experience, and I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed looking through the photos, because I have such a poor memory of my time in high school. On a whim, he offered to drive by the old school (it being just a mile out of the way). I’d done that a few times on my visits to the west side of town, but I’d never thought to actually turn onto the campus. Dad did, and by some strange fortune the gates were actually open so we could drive right up to the school.

As I’ve discussed social anxiety more and more recently, the question has often come up of when I first started struggling with it. And, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have a good answer. That brief tour Saturday night, though, confirmed suspicion it was firmly in place by high school. As we approached the building, I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s weird how familiar this all is!” And then as we got to the point where you’d actually turn toward the parking places, pick a spot, and then go in to classes, I was suddenly overwhelmed. Worse than when I was standing in line at church, I felt a crushing weight on my chest and my vision darkened. My heart started racing, as Dad casually swung past the parking spaces, up to the curb, and then turned back toward the exit.

Halfway there, after we’d left all the buildings behind, I finally found enough air to say weakly, “Oh, that was weird.” I paused for a moment, collected my thoughts, and then tried to explain to them what it had felt like. Mom and Dad are both trained counselors now, so they were interested and able to offer insight. Dad said I’d encounter that other places, too, because physical places tended to have strong emotional memory associated with them. That was easily the worst I’d ever experienced, though.

Still, by the time we turned onto Tyler and left the campus behind, I felt fine.

Sunday morning T– woke up early and took AB up to church for the pre-class coffee and donuts, figuring that she should be there for that since she’d skipped dinner Saturday night. I stayed home, slept in, and went with the Charboneaus in time for service at 10:30.

The service was a pretty good one, with some fantastic song-leading and a true-to-form emotional sermon from Gary. Afterward they had a big balloon release in memory of the Westlink family members who had gone on before. We’d intended to skip that, slip away during the confusion and have a quiet little family lunch, but when my sister went to get the little ones out of kids’ church, she got trapped in the crowd. And when I went in search of my errant sister, I did too. That turned out to be a lucky break, though, because I got to see Kelly Sullivan there. She’s a Mackey now, and I keep track of her on Facebook, but it was still nice to see an old friend. I also spoke with Serena Dawson and Loni Jo Butler and Steve Hutchins on Saturday night, and that’s pretty much it for other youth group alumni. Everybody else was family friends.

Anyway, after that we slipped away during the confusion, and had a quiet little family lunch at Carlos O’Kelly’s. Then Mom and Dad headed home, and my sister and her family came back to OKC, and T– and I ran to her parents’ place to get packed up and then we followed shortly after. We got home around five, order a pizza, and spent the evening on the couch, getting caught up with work on our laptops while AB played with puzzles and watched Shrek for the first time.

It was a busy weekend. Good, though. Better than I expected.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

The King, to the Poet (A Poem)

The King, to the Poet

Something happened, when no one was looking.
Quietly, politely, we tore it all down–
Ages old, majestic and mighty, we tore it down to build something new.

Shiny and new.

It was a tapestry once, that told a story around which we built our lives.
It was a mighty whole, a single fabric, built of myriad mysterious pieces.

With the blessing of all (or all but the fringe) we took it apart.

We took the shiny pieces and the pretty pieces and the useful pieces
And put them to work,
Doing our bidding (we once did its), and serving us in strength.

We marvel then at what our lives have become,
All built of artificial fibers and synthetic materials.
Appropriated. Misused.

And what of that old rag, that ancient tapestry?
It’s tatters now, of course, torn to shreds and threadbare
All that’s left behind.

And those same who plundered it now mock it for all the things it lacks.
For all the holes, for all the inconsistencies and flaws–
For gaps, that they had made.

There are gaps, and holes. Places where things once were,
Where things shiny and things pretty and things useful used to be.
It’s not the rag that’s torn, though.

The single piece is shattered, scattered, but its fragments still as strong.
Alas, they no longer grow as one.

You see, it was a living thing. It breathed the life of man.
We killed it, for our own ends — butchered it, for our wealth.
We took its intellect, to make us wise.
We took its heart, to learn some sort of kindness.
We took its soul, to give us more than life.
We took its might, its powers, its strength to change the world, and we made the world we wanted.

We still have all the pieces, and look how much they change our lives.
We killed the thing to get them, though.

We could start anew, of course. Some have tried.
We could make a new fabric, and start the ages-long process of giving it life,
Weave in the first of many threads, and make a gift to our descendants.
We’re a world of scavengers, though.
We’ve made our lives out of plundered parts now, and we’re not about to stop.

Start another if you want. It can be done.
But I’ll tell you this, my prophecy and sigh:
They’ll watch,
And they’ll point and laugh,
They’ll criticize everything that is not what the old thing was.

Then they’ll take everything that’s good, and mock you all the more.

God and Greatness: A Maxim

When it comes to religion, your average scientist is a person who can ask “Why?” a thousand times, but call someone a superstitious fool for asking it a thousand and one.

God: Christian “Science”

I got this passage from someone else’s blog, which I clicked through to from a blog that makes me entirely furious, every time I glance at it. So, instead of following proper etiquette and linking you to the other blog, I’ll just paste the relevant bit here:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]”

— Saint Augustine of Hippo, De Genesi ad Litteram Libri Duodecim (The Literal Meaning of Genesis), AD 401-415, translated by John Hammond Taylor
See? That’s a passage from some ancient dude. Credit goes to him, not the chick that brought him up in the first place. If you’d LIKE to read a bunch of people bash on Christians, though, here’s the link to the source blog:

I like the points this Augustine makes, though. I strongly agree with what he’s saying here. Then again, as a Social Constructionist, I’m more readily able to surrender discussions of the nature of reality than many Christians, because I’m basing my faith on something bigger, behind the scenes. Know what I mean?

Greatness: Some Honesty to Upset You Science-Types

I’d kinda planned on skipping these points, or glossing them over, so as not to lose some of you completely (I’m looking at you, Kris). But, any meaningful philosophical discussion really does require a significant degree of intellectual honesty, so I’ll drop some on you.

I believe pretty much everything modern science claims to be true of the universe, is true of the universe. There! You’ve gotta love that. Evolutionary speciation, Einsteinian can’t-go-faster-than-the-speed-of-light-for-no-good-reason-really, Heliocentricity, all that.

I ALSO believe pretty much everything ancient science (often called “Mythology”) claimed to be true of the universe, was true of the universe. See? That’s where I lost you.

Today, the world is fifteen billion years old, or whatever actual number you want to claim. Four hundred years ago, the world was four thousand years old. That’s where I’m going. All natural matter may be constructed out of 136 elements, but two thousand years ago it only took four elements to do the same thing.

I honestly, seriously believe that our world is socially constructed. All of the rules that govern the universe, all natural laws (as well as all nature) are pieced together from the mind of Man. Everything that can be tested, everything that can be measured, everything that can be communicated by way of symbols is simply a manufactured (might as well say “imaginary”) expression of some Real Truth to which we have NO shared access.

Therefore whatever number we put on the age of the earth is just an expression of how we are currently interpreting the nature of the world. If it is more useful for our present-day scientists to believe in time-intensive evolution in order to construct a functional explanation for the nature of animals as we observe them today, then our universe is flexible enough to include a world that’s billions of years old.

All it takes to make it true is to say it, and convince other people to believe it.

I believe lightning used to be heavenly javelins, and now it’s static discharge. I believe birds used to fly because they had so much Air in their nature, and now they do it using updrafts and hollow bones. I believe heat used to be an invisible liquid-like agent that flowed between objects, seeking balance, and now it’s an expression of energy.

I believe margarine used to be better for you than butter, and then butter was better for you than margarine, and now margarine is better for you than butter (I think). And where do we stand with eggs? And coffee?

NONE of this is real. It’s all just a game that all of humanity is playing, every day, and we change the goal sometimes, and we change the rules sometimes, but for the most part, at any given time, everybody agrees to a basic set of rules and we all follow them, and keep playing. That’s what society is.

That’s constructed reality.

There IS something real out there, but it’s not governed by any Natural laws. It’s not accessible to science, or logic. It’s Other, it’s Outside. We encounter it all the time, but in the process of trying to explain it, communicate it, understand it, we make something not-quite-like-it, we make a symbol, and then we pass that symbol around for years, forgetting the original source that it was supposed to describe. We make up uses for that symbol, and modify it over time, until it is very much a part of our lives, but no longer CLOSE to the Truth it was supposed to describe.

And then we encounter that Truth again, and it’s entirely foreign to us, so we try to understand, describe, and we end up making a NEW symbol for it, which we adopt, and pass around, and use for different purposes, but neither one is the actual thing, see?

So we still have myths about lightning as the javelins of the gods (the old symbol), and we still keep those around, and use them for certain purposes (they make good poetic images, for instance), but obviously that’s not the REAL thing, lightning. We know that now, because we’ve encountered lightning on a different level. We have a new symbol for it, this static discharge idea…. But that’s NO MORE the real thing than the javelin image was.

ALL of it (everything we say is true of the universe) is just a symbol we’re passing around, and modifying with each iteration, until it’s not the same thing at all. In other words, the MORE accurate you make your description (through testing and discussion and professional journals) the LESS like the original impulse it is. Yeah, you hate this paragraph now that I’m talking about lightning as static discharge, but go back and reread the paragraph before this one. It’s a constant cycle. It’s HOW WE DO THINGS.

Do you see what I mean? Do you see what I’m saying? It’s basically what you believe, too, except….

Ehff. You tell me. That’s what comments are FOR.

Greatness: Real Truth

So far I’ve used this term a little loosely, but relied on the capitols to convey my meaning. Let me attempt to clarify a little.

When I say “reality,” I don’t mean it. I mean what we THINK of as reality or, in other words, the whole constructed universe. In other words, I’m using YOUR definition of reality.

When I say Real Truth, I’m talking about the opposite thing. That basic essence which is unconstructed, the God-breathed foundation on which our ephemeral fantasy is built.

Everything in our reality is a pale reflection of some Real Truth, although generally so distrorted as to be unrecognizable. Here’s why:

We expect the world to make sense.

On a basic level, there’s no good reason to expect this. The Rationalists reasoned that God had made Man greater than all the rest of Creation by giving him Reason, and therefore it only made sense that a loving God would cause the rest of Creation to be inherently reasonable.

God never promised that, though. And, until the Rationalists, Reason wasn’t really all that prized by Man, so even that expectation is a fairly new one. Naturally, all of modern Western Science is BUILT upon that assumption (which originated in the Catholic church, naturally), and we worship modern Western Science, so we tend to make the same assumption.

However, Science without God must admit that there’s no good reason to expect the universe to be reasonable and ordered and, moreover, God himself never promised it would be. In fact, nature is, itself, plenty testamental to the fact that it ain’t. For this simple reason: things don’t start out ordered and reasonable, they have to be made that way by Science.

Now, in my effort to clarify Real Truth, I’m obfuscating Science a little, and I apologize for that. Science is, essentially, the codification of Social Constructionism. Outside of Science, Social Constructionism just happens. Within the Scientific community, however, it is pursued as a constant, all-out crusade.

No, Nicki, I’m not talking about Science as a political agenda. Yet. I’m just saying, the very principles that are foundational to Science also generate a constant, dramatic and altogether proactive Social Constructionism, whereas most Constructionism through the course of history has been reactive.

Real Truth is fickle, chaotic, inscrutable. Real Truth is far greater than physical existence, than our temporal shells. You can imagine it as a hundred-dimensional entity that we are trying to observe from our three (or four, or five, or whatever you want to call it). What we glimpse of Real Truth makes no sense to us, and leaves us feeling uneasy.

So we call it a Thunder God or a Phoenix or a dragon. Real Truth is chaos within our ordered world, and irritates us so, as Creators in our own right, we begin trying to make sense out of the chaos. We react to Real Truth in exactly the way a clam (oyster? whatever) reacts to a mote of sand — we begin wrapping it in layers to make it easier to deal with.

Our first step is to give it a name. Remember what I said yesterday about Symbols? A name is the first Symbol of a thing. We name it, and use that name to try to understand it. Not only that, but to share our understanding of it with others. Once we have named the thing, we begin the process of taming it. We construct little realities which can contain it, and see how it behaves within them. With each test, we drape a new layer of understanding over it (the Thing behaves like this, and THAT makes sense, so we’ll consider the Thing normal). Once we’ve reasoned away a sufficient amount of the Thing, we can accept the minor irritations of its quirks, until it finally settles quietly into our reality.

Electricity is like this today. Electricity is an excellent example of a Real Thing, because it still has some vestiges thereof. Scientists feel like they have a pretty good grasp of what electricity is and how it works (they’ve mostly tamed it), and so for the most part we consider it normal. It’s definitely got its quirks, though. Sometimes, against all reason, it will misbehave. And, of course, its great-granddaddy — Lightning — is still more mystery than not.

As recently as a hundred years ago, I think, you could argue the same thing about Heat. And human blood. As little as two hundred years ago it could have been dragons.

Our world is an ocean of mother-of-pearl. Our world a massive, extremely complex facade that we have built to make the thin threads of Real Truth fit into a reasonable pattern. It is ASTONISHING how well Science works, how well the pieces fit together to be SO accessible to the human mind — until, of course, you consider that perhaps the human mind built the structure it’s seeking to understand.

I think we rob Real Truth of some of its potency with each layer we drape over it. Then again, we make it something we can use. Consider how Man trembled at Thor’s thunder, and the significance it bore in his world whenever it flew. Then, it was not just a dangerous thing, it MATTERED.

That’s not true anymore. There are some people who still give it strength, but we’ve made thunder safer by naming it and beginning to describe it — we’ve robbed it of its moral significance but we’ve learned from it and made electricity of our own, which serves our purposes instead of us serving its.

We take the big “F” out of Prometheus’s Fire, that lit the darkness and gave Man the power to rival the Gods, and turn it into little fire, which can be used to temper steel and from tools and weapons and make everyday life a little bit easier. That is what we do to Real Truth whenever we find it — we tame it, bury its essence beneath layers of utility, and use it to make our Constructed lives easier.

That’s what I mean when I say Science is a magic — it’s the last magic. It has tamed every beast, it has conquered every land. There are still threads of Real Truth out there — quarks, strings, even fusion — and new ones will constantly appear. But we’ve given up on prophets and soothsayers, on Oracles and story-tellers to examine the Real Truth and give us something Meaningful for our lives. Instead, we immediately rush it off to the Scientists and ask them to make something useful out of it.

That gets me down. More than being a tech writer, more than 18 months straight of writer’s block, more than the children hurting and dying in Dan’s sad Number 5 — more than anything else, I hurt for our constant, overwhelming desire to understand, rather than to be amazed.