Thursday, June 28, 2012

Restrain not thyself from doing good

I’m reading the Shepherd of Hermas and (in the translation I have) it is talking repeatedly about not restraining yourself from good. First it struck me as an odd way of putting it, because I’m not used to hearing that.. Then is struck me as odd that it would strike me as odd. There is something weird in our culture that we automatically associate the morally good with something we don’t want to do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What's love without conditions?

Picture a sitcom, Girl: “Do you really love me?” Boy: “Of course I do.”Girl: “Name one thing that you love about me.” Boy, standing there with this mouth open: “uh...uh”. We know he has been found out and doesn’t love her. So let’s give him another chance: Girl: “Name one thing that you love about me.” Boy: “You’re inteligence, I always wanted date an honor student.” Girl, bursting into tears: “I was lying about having to stay late for honor society meetings, I just had detention.” It seems he might not really love her here either.
I was reading this post:love as endurance part 2, and this line struck me  “love is conditional. My parents loved the child they believed I was and should be.” and thought, yes and it should be. It’s a wonderful thing that my parents didn’t treat me just the same no matter what I did. They wanted me to learn and grow and work hard at being as good as I could. It was because they didn’t view me unconditionally, because my meeting of conditions did matter to them that they wanted what was best for me.
    In our society unconditional love is held up as the best kind of love, maybe the only love that really counts. But this extreme can put love in a sort of catch 22. If love is not based on some aspect or attribute, some description or perception, some essence or element, how can it actually be related to the beloved at all? It is just some warm feeling of the person who loves and the beloved object is totally superfluous to it. But if the love is somehow actually related to something we are then the love is in that sense conditional. It can’t remain constant unless the essence or aspect it is tied to remains constant. If we want to be loved for our self but then our self must have enough definite content not to be confused with any other self out there.
    A month or so ago I was challenged by a friend to to tell him where in the Bible it tells us that Jesus loves him. And I had to pause and think about it for a minute. The first thing that popped into my mind was “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” (This was not actually an accurate quote - I was thinking John 15 but it is John 14:21 that says something like this.) But I knew that wouldn’t satisfy my friend, he wanted an assurance of unconditional love. I can think of passages where Jesus tells us to love even our enemies, and offered himself as an example of what he means, dying of us while we were yet opposed to him and offering forgiveness to everyone who repents.
    But the modern demand for unconditional love goes beyond this. It expects that no forgiveness or repentance should be necessary. We want to be told not only that we can come as we are but that we can stay as we are, We don’t want our decisions wiped away, we want them affirmed. Of course if no forgiveness is needed what is the point of Christ’s sacrifice, if our choice can rightly be affirmed as is then there is nothing special about God affirming them. We are deluded into thinking that would be the greatest love when it would be nothing but indifference. We need make sure chasing a false image of an “unconditional” love doesn’t take us away from accepting a greater love that is conditional on our willingness for Him to perfect us.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mallow Berries

When I say mallow berries my husband thinks that I’m just using a strange word for boysenberries. 

NOT Mallow berriesImage by Sandra Forbes vis Wikimedia Commons   

image via Wikimedia commons
 I’m not sure they are actually berries. I don’t know what to call them, nuts?seeds? squash? But since they remind me of wheat berries I’m sticking to that.
Ever since I was told they were edible as a kid I have loved mallow berries. They're a favorite spring treat of mine. But I’ve never seen them for sale in a store. Luckily mallow is a fairly common weed in this area.

They grow from small purple flowers
The berries are less than a half inch across.
You somuld pick the ones where you can see a little star of berry through the wrapping. (These are less likely to have worms.)

peel back the wrapping to get the yummy juicy berry

eat the berry

and discard the wrap

Saturday, June 23, 2012

mini-REVIEW: The Power of Habit

This book takes a look at what habits are, how they work and how pervasive they are in our lives. It looks at how we end up doing things without thinking about them and how we can change our habits by understanding what triggers them and what rewards them. It’s an encouraging book, good for sparking ideas on good things to try.
The information is mostly told through anecdotes and stories, even the coverage of scientific investigations focuses more of special case studies than on statistics. This makes the information exciting and memorable but it makes evaluating the general principles suggested harder. At times the emotionality of main points felt overplay while the connections and interplay with other ideas and factors felt underplayed. But I like the variety of examples used. And I really liked how how the book opened my mind up to seeing how much habits impacted my life and how much I could gain but tailing my habits and my responses to the habits of others. 

This review was based on the audio version read by Mike Chamberlain

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hunger for a Fruitful Tree

image by Penny Mayes via Wikimedia
I’m reading through the gospel of Mark for my morning devotion time. This morning I got to chapter 11 something struck me as incident of the fig tree being cursed. (v 13-14) Something clicked together with what I had already been reading in Mark. I got a feeling of what the emotional impact must have been of what Jesus KNEW about what was going to happen to the nation of Judah. He understood, both that he was the fulfillment of all their hopes and the crushing of their dearest dream. They were looking for a messiah, a king the lead them in restoring Israel to its promised place, to make it free and secure and respected among the nations. He knew that He was bringing them something better than they envisioned, securing their place in an eternal, perfect kingdom of God rather than securing for them a temporary and flawed kingdom of men. But He know that many or even most would not see it that way and would not take hold of the new gift. They would be left with only strict promises of of the original contract but without any new work of the Holy Spirit to give them fresh purpose.
This gives me a new perspective on the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-31). It reminds me of a mother making sure her oldest child get extra attention when a new baby is just around the corner. God does have unlimited attention and unlimited gifts available. And all the new gifts of that came with Jesus’s resurrection would be available to the jew equally with the Gentiles. But tjew had some illusions, similar to a very young only child who might equate being special and being fully love with being the only one mommy carries or the only one that daddy plays choo choo train with. And those illusions are about to be shattered. Jesus is a Jew and He loves the Jewish people and the Jewish nation. He knows that they are not going to get what they picture in a Messiah. He foresees that many will not understand or accept the greater gift He is giving them. how distressing it must be to Jesus as He see the distress coming up for Israel. Having just been hailed as the messiah in Jerusalem, on His way to cleanse the temple, He curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit. He knew this wasn’t the time for it to bear fruit but he still hungered for that fruit.
I get the sense that even when God knows we’re not going to do the right thing, when he knows that in our willfulness and self absorption we are going to wander from his commands and get ourselves hurt, he still hungers for that fruit we would bear if we were mature. He want to warn us that without Him in our lives there is no life, just a death a stricken tree.
image via Wikimedia commons

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Oatmeal vs. FunnyJunk

I just had to re-post this this whole situation is so funny it kept me in giggles all day. Below is a copy and paste of a post by Jane at Dear Author:

The Case of The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk and Charles Carreon

The Oatmeal is a satiric cartoon site run by Matthew Inman. About a year ago, he noticed that his content was being uploaded without attribution to a site called “The FunnJunk.” The FunnyJunk is a site that contains user generated content. This means that account holders post things that they like from all over the internet. Maybe a pre-Pinterest sort of site. The Oatmeal writes to the FunnyJunk requesting that the information be removed.
FunnyJunk took down the comics but proceeded to create a mirror image of The Oatmeal’s website. The Oatmeal responded by asking his readers what to do.
The FunnyJunk responded with a call to action to its own users asking them to inundate The Oatmeal’s inbox and facebook page. The FJ’s users responded in droves using their arsenal of retorts such as gay slurs and incoherently misspelled sentences to insult The Oatmeal and his biological predecessors for having the gall to procreate and, I guess, learn how to spell and draw.
According to Ars Technica, after the furor died down, the FJ admin acted somewhat responsibly, possibly realizing that its site could be in jeopardy due to all the copyrighted material illegally reposted there.
When the flame war finally died down, the FunnyJunk admin issued an unsigned note saying, “We’ve been trying for the longest time to prevent users from posting copyrighted content” and “I’m having all content, comics, comments, etc. with the names of your comics in them deleted/banned by tonight… The site barely affords to stay alive as it is and has enough problems.”
The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk could have died there in November of 2011, only to be a footnote in internet flamewar history. But no.
The FunnyJunk for some reason came into contact with Charles Carreon, Esq., an attorney who came into national prominence during the domain name lawsuit. Carreon penned a letter on behalf of FJ, threatening The Oatmeal with a lawsuit for the post where The Oatmeal points out that the FJ has copied his website. Carreon, on behalf of FJ, wants the post to be taken down and $20,000 in damages.
The Oatmeal gets a lawyer and responds back with well worded, backed by research, rebuttal. The Oatmeal also goes on to decide to raise money off this ridiculous situation because so many of his readers want to help but the money isn’t going to Inman, instead he raised money for charity. Initially, he only thought to raise $20,000 for charity but the donations came in thick and fast and in the end, Inman raises over $200,000 which is donated to The American Cancer Society and the National Wildlife Federation.
The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk could have died there on June 12, 2012, only to be a footnote in internet flamewar history and with its own Wikipedia entry. But no.
The situation gains the attention of the mainstream media and Carreon begins to make personal threats. He expresses wonderment and dismay at the internet’s reaction (he calls it bullying) toward his legal demands of Inman and The Oatmeal. He suggests that there might be other legal problems for the Oatmeal such as the fundraiser being violative of IndieGoGo’s term of service.
The internet continues to make fun of FJ and Carreon. Other attorneys make public statements about Carreon’s actions which include statements like “Holy fucking shitballs inside a burning biplane careening toward the Statue of Liberty, Captain! I hope that the reporter merely got the story wrong, because if not, that’s more fucked up than a rhino raping a chinchilla while dressed up in unicorns’ undergarments. ”
The Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk could have died there later on June 12, 2012, only to be a footnote in internet flamewar history, with its own Wikipedia entry, and a few mainstream media mentions. But no.
Charles Carreon’s pride has been wounded. In his delusionary state, he must see that the only way out is to double down on the Jack and the Six (i.e., worse blackjack hand in the deck). He takes the situation to DefCon 5. Last night, Popehat was alerted by another legal watcher that Charles Carreon has filed a lawsuit against The Oatmeal, IndieGoGo, American Cancer Society, and National Wildlife Federation.
He transcended typical internet infamy when he filed a federal lawsuit last Friday in the United Sates District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland. He belonged to the ages the moment he filed that lawsuit not only against Matthew Inman, proprietor of The Oatmeal, but also against IndieGoGo Inc., the company that hosted Inman’s ridiculously effective fundraiser for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society.
But that level of censorious litigiousness was not enough for Charles Carreon. He sought something more. And so, on that same Friday, Charles Carreon also sued the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society, the beneficiaries of Matthew Inman’s fundraiser.
Popehat is a site run by a bunch of lawyers and they are offering Inman pro bono legal work and they are asking the internet the following:
1. Kevin and I have offered pro bono help, and will be recruiting other First Amendment lawyers to offer pro bono help. It’s not just Mr. Inman who needs help. IndyGoGo does to. So do the charities. No doubt the charities already have excellent lawyers, but money that they spend fighting Carreon (whatever the causes of action he brought) is money that they don’t have to fight cancer and help wildlife. That’s an infuriating, evil turn of events.
2. You could still donate through the IndieGoGo program The Oatmeal set up. Or you could donate directly to the American Cancer Society or the National Wildlife Federation. I like animals, and I loved my mother who died at 55 of cancer, but I have no qualms whatsoever about encouraging people to donate to those causes as part of a gesture of defiance and contempt against Charles Carreon and the petulant, amoral, censorious douchebaggery he represents.
3. Spread the word. Tell this story on blogs, forums, and social media. Encourage people to donate as part of a gesture of defiance of Charles Carreon and entitled butthurt censors everywhere. Help the Streisand Effect work.
4. Do not, under any circumstances, direct abusive emails or calls or other communications to Mr. Carreon. That helps him and hurts the good guys. I don’t take his claims of victimhood at face value — not in the least — but such conduct is wrong, and empowers censors.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part IV from Popehat.
Feel free to copy this entire post and repost it (even without attribution) anywhere you can.

dividing people into good vs. bad

I was reading the blog post Scorn Profits the Blogger but Costs the Kingdom, and while I saw it in part as a more eloquent explanation of what I was trying to get at in my enthymeme posts, What really caught my eye was this quote:
 I’m getting mixed messages when you say I’m a person of “good heart and mind” who is simultaneously “selling scorn.”
The idea that there is a contradiction between seeing someone in an overall positive light as a good person and seeing one of their behaviours as mistaken, had the resonance with something that I had encountered, and been bothered by, before.
    It reminded me of a conversation I had had with an acquaintance lately. She focused on whether her parents were on her side in conflicts she was having with her sister, She seemed to think of this as going hand-in-hand with “understanding” her. Of course she thought the position she held was right (or she wouldn’t have held it) and that her parents should also agree with it. But it seems to go beyond expecting the rightness of the case to convince, to a feeling that not being on her side indicated something wrong with the fundamental relationship, as if regardless of the merits of her case, the fact that she was upset should not only make them upset too but make them into an advocate for her desires. This lead me father back into my memories.
Many years ago I was talking with a friend, for this post I’ll call her Chris. She was telling us about how upset she was at an injustice that had been done her. She had been arrested for soliciting for prostitution, which would cause her a lot of trouble, especially because she was already on probation. She was indignant at the arrest because she hadn’t actually said anything to the undercover cop. All she had done was make some hand gestures. She demonstrated the gestures. I dropped out of the conversation at that point. I had to side with the cop. Those gestures clearly conveyed a commercial offer without any words needing to be said. And that memory has stuck with me. I didn’t like Chris any less, I didn’t change my basic opinion of Chris as  a basically nice person who had some issues she needed help working on. But at the same time in this case I wasn’t on Chris’s side in this issue.
There a tendency to divide people into good and bad people. Your friends are good basically right thinking people. Of course you want to defend them if they are upset or feeling wronged. If someone feels hurt or angry and you understand and sympathise  with why she feels that way then she must be right to feel that way. If you consider the facts of the case first wouldn’t be doubting they were good people, wouldn’t that be discarding the basis of your friendship?
    But that dichotomy, between a good person who is your friend and someone who has done a specific wrong thing, is a false one. Most people say something in anger or scorn at some time in our lives. Sooner or later most of us are overly demanding or irritating towards a family member. Being in the friends/good people category shouldn’t prevent those around us from acknowledging these things when they happen. And on the other side the isolated fact that someone committed a crime or transgressed our societies boundaries rule out the possibility that they might be a friendly kind, and likable person in other respects. Connected to this we shouldn’t ‘equate’ sympathising with them in some areas means excusing or condoning their wrongs. We shouldn’t make understanding something mean we have to endorse it and we shouldn’t make the fact that we can’t endorse something means we never try to understand it. In a functioning society there has to be room to criticize people without rejecting them and the possibility of understanding even those we are opposed to.

Monday, June 18, 2012

not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth

The church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. One let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep the Christian shephard was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world.
                    - G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I love the sense this quote gives of how Christian theology just a list of plug-in ideas but an interconnected whole that encompasses the universe.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

mini-REVIEW St Francis of Assisi by G. K. Chesterton

    This short biography is designed to be just a brief introduction and overview of Francis’s life.  And it is a perfect quick read if you don’t know the outline of Francis of Assisi’s life. But it’s more than this. All biographers face both contradictory evidence and total gaps in our knowledge. They have to make choices as to what in include  and what to conclude about the total pattern of the life. What I love about this book is how Chesterton explains what he is including and why. How he is aware of different possible audience viewpoints and how he clearly makes us aware of his. I love how Chesterton makes concise but clear arguments for why he views Francis as he does. And I love the sense of history and of humanity conveyed by this book.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


So I was talking to a liberal friend about a movie she had enjoyed which was about a group of women, in a union, fighting for ‘equal pay for equal work’ in a car plant in the UK. There was this scene she had especially enjoyed. This is how I remember her describing it to me -- The women have been in a meeting with senior management and when questioned about whether the woman’s job was as complicated as the men’s jobs one of the women pulled several pieces of material out of her purse and challenged the manager to figure out how to put these together into a seat cover with no diagram, like the women have to do. After the meeting one of the others asks this woman how she thought to bring the parts to a seat cover. The woman answers that these weren’t seat cover pieces but scraps she just happened to have. --  my friend seemed admiring and celebratory at how clever these women had been in proving their point.
First we had to straighten up my confusion because when I heard ‘for equal work’ I assumed that the women in question were doing the same work, with no more difference than 6 of one, half a dozen on the other. But apparently, the argument was that the women were just as much skilled machines operators as any of the men though they were using different machines and making different parts. (It seems to me that as a general principal skill operating different machines can have different levels of skill rarity and thus would call for different levels of pay. So gender rights would be a complication with the main issue a straightforward union management negotiation where two different groups competed for their own self interests in bureaucratic classifications.)
But after I understood that, there was still something about the story that bothered me. I realized what it was this week when I was looking at the coverage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, and thinking that I would like it if being open about your paycheck were more common and encouraged. The women in the movie I had heard about weren’t being open and honest with the management. In the fictional version I heard the implicit challenge was actually impossible because the right pieces were not actually presented. Because the women’s overall goal, to be in the same pay range as the men, was worthy the deceitfulness of their tactics doesn’t seem to count.
This leads me to a general question: When we a business deal is honest, what do we mean? I think we generally mean something more or different from “Nobody told an outright lie” but what exactly?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fiction: Rodney's Goal

Rodney ignored his itching acne as he worked patiently with the hacksaw. Even Mr. Wolf, the shop teacher, excuse me, the ‘applied fabrication instructor,’ would have been amazed to see Rodney applying so much care and patience to anything. Not that he was supposed to have a hacksaw outside of class in the first place. Certainly he was not supposed to be using it on the fabric of space station Alpha-Psi Six. Maybe it was something about being more then a light year from the nearest inhabited planet that made grown ups so distrustful of teenagers. But there wasn’t any chance that cutting this security support would create the slightest disturbance in any critical system. That might set off an alarm. While alarms were fun in the course of a prank to pass the time, right now Rodney had a Goal.
Nothing must come between Rodney and his Goal. Everything about this dinky corridor was redundant. Even the awkwardly practical bare pipes running along the walls were for redundant backup systems. But safety of a space station was serious and the pipes were monitored. Rodney was very conscious of safety. No matter how Mrs. Constancia, the humanities teacher, hissed, Rodney was pleased that his record on never getting anyone seriously hurt in all his pranks proved his caution. But a steel security strut put in to block a duct barely eight inches wide to start with was so very redundant that the safety engineers had overlooked. Not that there was any sensible reason anyone should keep Rodney from his Goal. It was all just stupid prejudice. Sirens never killed anybody.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why is Literary Fiction so dark?

    It’s a common observation that Literary Fiction tends to be dark and even sometimes depressing compared to popular genre fiction like mystery, romance or sci-fi. And it seems to me that this dismal tendency, in a type of books we often praise and tend to teach in English classes, needs some explanation. I’ve heard the idea that this grimness reflects reality or at least a common view of reality. I’ve read theories that various pressures in the selection process are having causing the darkness as a side effect. While I don’t discount these theories I think is also something intrinsic to literary fiction that may be a major cause of the negativity.
The writing in Literary Fiction is supposed to be like a stained glass window. The language is supposed to be beautiful and interesting in and of itself. You’re attention is meant to be caught by a novel expression or well turned phrase, occasioning admiration for the author’s creativity. The metaphors are supposed to reward careful study. There should be important layers of meanings that are only available to a careful and detailed analysis.
    However, in genre fiction the writing is supposed to be like a plate glass picture window. The language is supposed to be clear, smooth, and polished. You’re meant to be able to fall into the story without stopping to think about the writing. You should be able to get so caught up in the characters that you aren’t aware of the author at all. You should be able to absorb information and ideas in the story without breaking your concentration on the narrative flow.
    One thing that I notice about stained glass windows is that you need a bright light behind them to appreciate them. A picture window functions pretty much as well on a cloudy day or at twilight as on a sunny day. But when the sun disappears the functionality of a stained glass window changes entirely, and it loses all its interest. When you are writing fiction you already have to exaggerate the drama and the emotions of a story. After all, the reader has reality all around them and the only thing a writer has to compete with that are black and white letters on the page. But a Literary Fiction author has the additional problem, in impressing the story on the reader’s mind, that the story is weighed down with linguistic ornamentation.
    And when it comes to making an impression not all emotions are equal in creating that impression. Research has shown that negative event makes a makes a much stronger impression on the mind and the memory than an equivalent good one. If you want to display intricately crafted and detailed use of language the perfect means of making it stick in someone’s mind is to use a story that is tragic of despairing or generally upsetting. So the most successful examples of beautiful language are going to be those that tell a distressing tale. In the case of Literary fiction emotional darkness is the equivalent of bright sunlight for a stained glass window.

Monday, June 4, 2012

It's Art to me.

I like painting my fingernails. It’s fun art I can take with me anywhere and enjoy all day long. As I look at my nails I like to think about what else I might add to the design. I experiment and see how the design changes over time. Of course that means I don’t have earlier designs any more. So this time I took some picture of my current pattern.  I made a collage of the various stages it went through. It's not great art but it serves the function of art for me. It allows me to creatively explore things from color and shape to pattern and layers to how flaws and chips can contribute to uniqueness and beauty. (I think you should be able to enlarge the picture by clicking on it. If not, let me know.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

mini Review: King's Cross

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus by Timothy Keller

This book is a look at the story and the world view in the Gospels, primarily the gospel of Mark but with some reference to the other gospels and epistles. It is written written is a simple style and aimed of the ordinary modern reader with no assumption of previous knowledge of the story made. It still manages to address important points from criticism and scholarship. Even though this is a story I know well Keller brings new insight as well as bringing renewed energy to older ideas.
I’ve been having fun taking some surveys at  . These are the multiple choice surveys, many of them focusing on what the respondents base their morals on and what drives them to ethical actions. (A lot of them are interesting and what I’ve read of Jonathan Haidt’s work seems to point to new and intriguing insights.) But I’ve found myself unsatisfied at the range of possibilities that seem to be envisioned by the researchers. I particularly noticed that in a survey focused on motivations it seemed that the only reasons envisioned for good behavior were fear of your own feelings of guilt or fear of other people shaming you. In King’s Cross Keller does a really good job conveying the underlieing intuition of another motivation, of a desire to do good based in a positive view of yourself that is uncontaminated by a fear of guilt and desire to benefit other that is uncontaminated with pride.
    This sense of getting a clear grasp of an idea I had already been reaching for came to me repeatedly as I listened to this book. I would recommend this book to everyone. 

This Review is based on the audio version read by Lloyd James