April 26, 2005

An interesting exchange

Through reading WatchBlog, I discovered Walker Willingham's blog, as he was an author of one of the Lefty threads. Because his comments struck me as being consistenly civil and respectful (as well as thoughtful), I decided to seek out his site. I read through a significant part of his writings up to the November elections, and I remained impressed. As I said to him in my first comment on his blog

So far, I've found that you probably disagree with me on just about every one of my major political tenents, but that you do so with a great deal more polish and grace that I'm used to hearing from your side.

Quite courteously, he replied to my comment with a very nice e-mail. Since then, I've browsed his blog a few times, but hadn't left any more comments. Over the weekend, however, he sent me a link to an article he'd recently read, asking for my comments. If you're interested, his own comments on the article can be found here. I was quite flattered and very willing to oblige. The extended entry contains my response. Since my response, I've read every entry of Rob Salkowitz's blog since just before the election, and found it quite fascinating. At the moment, I'm desperately in need of a good, long, conservative read to replenish my faith in my ideology :-), but I consider it worth the trouble. Don't worry; I've asked permission to post these things. I'm interested in your thoughts on the issue, as especially your critique of my critique. I'm not exactly a seasoned debater and I have the uneasy feeling that I made many blunders that I'm going to wish I hadn't.

Dear Mr. Willingham,

Before I begin to respond, let me say 'thanks' again. Thanks for thinking of me, for taking the time to send the link to me, and for caring (to some degree) what I might think about the article. It is a great honor to me.

I think that opponents of every kind have a tendency to view their opposition as more united and dangerous than they really are. For example, up until the late 1980s (from what I can tell), most on the right still considered the Soviet Union a united, deadly threat bent on worldwide conquest. As I've studied Soviet history this semester, I've realized that they had a whole can of worms amongst themselves that they were desperately trying to deal with. As I've read it, I've come to the conclusion that we were more afraid of the opposition than we should have been. It's like what my uncle said when he first had the opportunity to fly to the Soviet Union in the 1980s - "If that's the great bear, it's a toothless old thing." In the same way, I think that most of you on the left fear the right more than you should. When all this is history and (perhaps) the Democrats are back in majority in Congress, you'll be able to look back and see that "the right" was never as united and dangerous and "evil" as it seems today.

I think that the author has a significant point when he says that "On the Right, there may be some diversity of viewpoints, particularly between the self-styled libertarians and the theocrats, but there is a singularity of purpose, a basic agreement on the style of confrontation and the terms of debate, and a common set of assumptions about their tribal identity and the identity of the enemy." One thing I've thought over the last few years as the Republicans seem to have gained a temporary ascendancy is "This isn't supposed to happen. We're supposed to be losing!" You see, much of the right wing, particularly the "theocrats," is convinced that the larger public is against them, that the left wing hates them and urgently works for their destruction, and that the whole tide of our country is going the wrong way. I get the sense that most of the "theocrats" believe they are fighting a romantic, noble, "lost cause" against an irresistible tide of modern secular culture. We don't expect to win. We're determined to go down fighting, but I don't think anyone really expects to turn the tide. It's something like being the last few men alive at the Alamo, the night before the Mexicans attack. You lay down all disagreements with one another and fight to the death. What do disagreements matter? You're all going to die anyway.

I don't know what other "theocrats" are thinking, but I've been wondering for many years now when the other shoe is going to drop, when our run of luck is going to peter out, and when we'll start openly losing again. I'm starting to hear a lot more hopeful rhetoric from a number of sources, but I don't believe it yet. I don't believe in any sense that we've won. And I think that, at least among "theocrats," my view is common.

Because of this, I think that a significant part of "the Right" is unified and held together under a "last stand" mentality. We feel that we have to "hang together, or we'll all be hanged separately." In some of the right-wing mailings I receive, there's an earnest debate on whether or not (and to what degree) we should push for the Republican party to give us what we want. We certainly want things, but we don't want to break the coalition. The Republicans may be annoying politicians, but the Democrats are "the enemy."

So basically, I think that a huge chunk of "the Right" holds together because they are convinced that if they don't, they'll be destroyed by what they perceive as a hostile culture. I think that a majority of the "the Right" is shocked at its victory and mistrustful that it is genuine. That's why we hold together ... we see a very large and very powerful enemy. I presume you've seen the Lord of the Rings films - I think that much of the right feels like the forces of the West after the battles for Helm's Deep and the Pelennor. We've won twice, beyond all hope ... but Mordor is still out there. It isn't time to celebrate. We have to hold together. For the "theocrats," I think that their hope lies in their faith in the coming return of Christ (just think Frodo and Sam) rather than any belief they can win the fight against the rising tide. Of course, I realize that most of you on the left would feel insulted by a comparison to the forces of Mordor and Orthanc (and perhaps a little smug when you think that "these poor little minds have this 'good' and 'evil' dichotomy that we see through"), but, from what I've read of the left's rhetoric, I think that you consider yourselves just as much "the forces of the West" against "the forces of Mordor" - only you're losing (temporarily).

Part of me doesn't know whether to laugh or cry on hearing a description of the "Left By Default" as a "reality-based coalition." This line, in particular, is a gem "However, there is broad agreement on the tactics of reason, compromise, learning from observation, and distrust of dogma." Does he honestly think his opponents don't think the same for themselves? It's all very well to self-righteously pride oneself on being the voice of reason and rationality, just keep in mind that one's opponents think the same of themselves. Insofar as, these days, science is considered a god-replacement (since, if it's scienctific, it's "true"), he has just, in effect, said "God is on our side, not our enemies'."

If the Republicans have done a masterful job convincing people that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for "Communism", the Democrats are fervently trying to convince the people that a vote for the Republicans is a vote for "theocracy." Don't try to claim the moral high ground because the Republicans are trying to paint their opponents in extreme colors - so are the Democrats.

"They have banished the reality-based members of their coalition and have fused everyone else together under a banner of uncompromising extremism, regardless of the specifics of their issues." The self-righteousness of this line is staggering. "Uncompromising extremism" indeed. Just be aware, it doesn't look like "uncompromising extremism" on this end.

I liked your response, particularly in saying that it is important to hold onto your values and principles. It's good to know that you believe you have a rational basis for being "left" - I trust you can defend it. Quite apart from feeling endangered by the left, I have a rational reason for being "right" as well. The idea of compromise with the left draws cautious interest from me. What is it you want to compromise over? Some things are sacrificable. Some things are not. I know you feel the same way.

What do I see in the cards for the future? I dunno. Nothing lasts, particularly in politics. We've only won by narrow margins, so it won't take much to start losing again. I don't think that Democrats have anything serious to worry about. As far seeing any hope for what I believe in, that depends. While it would be wonderful if "the theocrats" won and abortion was banned and I could speak of God in public without fear of being sued by the ACLU, I don't think it'll happen. Besides, if the "theocrats" did win, then they would go nuts and I would have to join their opposition to keep them from doing dumb things. I do not believe this country will be transformed ... certainly not by any political movement. But God always leaves a remnant. A few will hold on. If Christians could hold on in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and the Roman Empire, they'll hold on if the "left" wins.

Personally, I believe the left will win. I believe that within a generation, Christians will be openly persecuted for their faith with the backing of the state, likely enough to the point of martyrdom. I believe that the America I love is almost gone. However, persecution is a blessing, if a bitter one. The church deperately needs a cleansing force to help drive out mediocrity. And I know that my opinion is shared by almost every evangelical I know. With an attitude like that, I doubt you'll see much compromise in the future. You see, even if the world isn't ending (and, though I'm not sure myself, most evangelicals seem to be quite sure the world is about to end), many evangelicals are pretty convinced America is about to end. To us, it feels like we've allied for a last-ditch defense and that, if (and when) we lose, it's over. But it was glorious while it lasted.

It strikes me that most of the remarks on the left that I read sound about the same - only they're convinced that we stand on the brink of a neo-Nazi theocratic fascist dictatorship and they are the last defense. Some of them are as pessimistic as I am. That's what strikes me as so odd and dangerous - that both sides feel threatened to the point of near-extinction. Actually, it gives me some hope. I know that, to my knowledge, the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy is a myth. Maybe, just maybe, so is the Vast Leftwing Conspiracy. If people on the left are terrified of people like me or James Dobson (which seems laughable), maybe the people I worry about aren't really as dangerous. Maybe I'm wrong in thinking that the US stands on the brink. Maybe. If so, then I can take a deep breath and we can work things out.

The odd thing is that both sides claim to know more about the others' intentions than the other does. The left says the majority on the right are being duped by their evil leaders into supporting a cause that will inevitably lead to a neo-Nazi theocratic dictatorship. The right says that the majority on the left don't realize that their policies will lead to the destruction of the United States and the persecution of Christianity. Each side sees the other as racing toward a cliff, a cliff that they alone (the rational, sane side) can see. The question is "who's right?" Is America just a few short steps away from neo-Nazi theocratic dictatorship? Are we next door to UN world domination and the deadly persecution of the Christian faith? Or are we both a little hysterical? What is true? Can't get around that question.

Obviously, in the near-term, both sides' fears seem ludicrous. John Kerry's presidency would not have been the end, just as George Bush's won't be. But where are we headed? "Where are we going, and what's with the hand-basket?" :-) If I had to guess, all sides have a bit of truth in them. The vector of what is "right and just and good" is almost never parallel to any side.

No matter what is true, there's room to talk. To talk about the abstract ideals of left and right. To debate over present policy and future trends. We can even do so civilly.

I think I'll close this response (and my thoughts) for now. Thanks again for writing to me, and for reading this far. My thoughts probably aren't as clear as I could make them (I'm still musing over a lot of these issues), but I hope they help.

Thanks much. May God bless you.
~ Daniel Leatherwood

PS. I'd like your permission to post this letter (along with necessary links to explain it) on my blog. Would that be acceptable to you? Of course, if you desire, you're free to post this letter as well.

Posted by Leatherwood at 05:25 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

April 20, 2005

Preliminary Flammability Results and Consequent Musings

As I was gathering my clothes from the dryer today, I went through my usual ritual of carefully scraping out the accumulation of lint before removing the clothes. As I did so, I happened to remember an experiment that I've wanted to try for quite some time. I've heard that lint is highly flammable, and I wished to put it to the test. Pleased with myself at remembering this point at the critical juncture when I could actually do something about it, I carefully harvested the lint and brought it home with me. I then sat on my porch and lit the ball of lint (I'd packed it pretty tightly) on fire. The results were far less spectacular than I'd hoped. The stuff certainly burns, approximately as well as paper, but not nearly so well as gasoline or some other highly flammable substance. What eventually remained resembled a charcoal briquette more than anything else. Of course, as the title of this post suggests, those are only the preliminary results --- clearly, more testing is in order.

I have certain latent pyromaniacal tendencies ... I think most males do (I hope so, anyway). One of my favorite discoveries of the flammable properties of substances occurred in Mongolia. During the long Communist rule of Mongolia, the Soviets saw fit to plant thousands and thousands of cottonwood trees in the capital city. They grow pretty well and don't seem to suffer much from the harsh climate. However, every spring it snows for about two weeks. I mean, the air is full of soft, downy cottonwood seeds that resemble nothing so much as snow. Getting them in your mouth is really annoying, because they don't melt. You can choke on them. However, Ulaanbaatar has no set scheme for getting rid of these seeds. Because of this, they form small drifts several inches thick at many places in the city, and will spread thinly across open, unattended lots (of which there are many).

The most important property of these cottonwood seeds, however, is the fact that they are as flammable as gasoline. Once I made this happy discovery, I procured a lighter for myself and amused myself for hours by prowling my section of the city, torching every drift of cottonwood seeds I could find. It was truly delightful - flick the lighter at a convenient pile and flames would flash down the entire length of seeds, consuming them in about a second or two, leaving the dry husks of seeds and a little black burnt residue behind. Fortunately for me, they burn so quickly and they're so insubstantial that there is virtually no risk of lighting anything else on fire, unlike gasoline. You could put a sheet of paper on top of the pile and all the seeds would burn away beneath it without even scorching the paper. My favorite discoveries were vacant lots where the seeds had accumulated over the ground - there's nothing quite like causing a fire to flash over an acre or two in a matter of moments. Ah, yes, the glorious days of youth ... :-). I'm sure that doing anything of the sort would be highly illegal in this country and would earn me a date with the fire department and probably the police. It's a shame, really ...

Posted by Leatherwood at 05:38 PM
This post has been classified as "Autobiography"

April 18, 2005

Fear of the Mind

In my Capstone II class, one of the topics we've discussed during the semester caught my attention and my interest. The entire course is focused on developing "the Christian mind," emphasizing the rational and intellectual as vital parts of a Christian life. We're working through a book called Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind: the role of reason in the life of the soul by JP Moreland. Throughout the book, JP Moreland delivers some pretty sharp criticism of the way the modern Western church has devalued the rational and emphasized the emotional in the past few decades (well, hundred years would probably be more accurate). There's no doubt that he's right - the modern Christian church could really use an infusion intellectual vitality. But early in the semester, we were invited to think about the question of why evangelicals tend to be suspicious of the mind and the intellect. It's on that question that I want to muse for a while.

Why is there a strong tendency within the modern evangelical church to view education and intellectual pursuits with a certain unease? I think there are a lot of reasons. One of the chief reasons for the split between the mainline and evangelical churches was a conviction on the part of evangelicals that the Christian faith as practiced by the mainline churches had grown cold and formulaic, catering more to modern political and social currents than to the Bible. In many ways, the evangelical movement was founded in reaction to a faith without "heart" - the head was not a primary focus for the movement. Indeed, it seemed to be a primary focus for their adversaries.

Another reason that the modern evangelical church looks suspiciously at intellectual pursuits is that it perceives the prevailing intellectual culture as being hostile to the faith. In this, they are undoubtedly correct. To a large degree, the orthodox Christian faith has been under attack since the Enlightenment. Of course, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was almost the first time the rising tide of secularism really caught the church's attention. To some degree, the theory of evolution was the first time the rising tide of secularism had really frightened the church. From an evangelical standpoint, few of the intellectual trends of the past 150 years are encouraging.

But, most interesting to me, I think another reason the modern evangelical church tends to shun the intellectual world is out of fear for its children ... to a large degree, out of fear for people like me and many of my friends. And there is good reason - again and again, conservative evangelicals have been their kids troop off into the wide-wide world and come back changed ... newly disillusioned and freshly scornful of their "close-minded" parents and the stuffy, constraining culture they grew up in. Of course, this doesn't happen all the time or even most of the time, but it happens enough that I think it's worked its way as a basic fear into the heart of most evangelicals ... parents in particular.

The secular intelligentsia has enormous power. It's virtually impossible to be exposed to its ideas and remain unchanged (indeed, it's not even wise). Perhaps most powerful is the immense peer pressure of a perceived intellectual peer group that is dramatically hostile to "good old religion." It's a bewildering world out there, where "good" "Christian" kids get exposed to all the power and draw and temptations of the secular mindset and worldview.

For me, I think that the most powerful pressure has been my desire to be well thought of ... I want people to think I'm intelligent, thoughtful, and insightful. And the chief way to be seen as all those things is to compromise. To start to talk like the world outside. To join in the condescending talk about the "redneck" "intolerant" "backward" evangelical culture. The outside world puts a great deal of pressure on people to conform, to agree. And I think that a great part of the evangelical world fears the outside world.

And, I think that sometimes this fear can drive the evangelical culture to overreact - to see any sign of disagreement as incipient disloyalty. To an unhealthy degree, the evangelical culture is so afraid of the outside culture that it doesn't tolerate much dissent.

I think this is true, but I hasten to add that I don't mean to mock these fears, or to say that they're groundless. I'm sympathetic to them ... for they are also in my mind. As some of my friends differ from the established orthodoxy, a great part of me rises up in panic, fearing that we may "lose" them ... lose them to the pull of the secular world. Lose them to the outside world that so often seems to look at us with such disdain. There are few things more painful than having someone you love despise you and all you believe and (for parents) all you taught them to believe. There's a lot of hurt in that.

Acknowledging the fear and mistrust can help us master it, and keep it from ruling us. First and foremost, my thought is this - don't be afraid. Don't be afraid of the secular world and the tremendous power of its ideology. Truth is true, whatever the postmodernists say ... and it remains so, no matter how many degrees the naysayers possess. Truth comes out in the end. My second thought is this - don't let your fear turn you into an enemy of the truth. Too often, we clamp down on our ideology and belief system, refusing to question it, refusing to challenge it. We do not have a corner on the truth. Like it or not, the secular world's ideas have power and merit, and learning to exercise ones mind is absolutely essential. But you can only really exercise your mind if you aren't afraid of losing the truth. Instead of seeing oneself as a defender of truth, perhaps it would be better to see oneself as a seeker of truth. Can't truth defend itself? Have a little faith - if a thing is true, it lasts. It'll survive. No-one should ever fear the truth. The truth should be sought after, longed for, and loved.

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:00 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

April 17, 2005

Thoughts on Essays

In my reading, I came across an article by Paul Graham. It's a good article, though fairly length. As I read it, I kept running across little quotes that I liked very much. I've provided a few of these (it took a while for me to get the idea of keeping track of them) below, linked with the thoughts I had while in reading them. I thought it would make pretty decent marterial for a post ... and I need to get to bed soon.

  • An essay is something you write to try to figure something out.
  • Fundamentally an essay is a train of thought-- but a cleaned-up train of thought, as dialogue is cleaned-up conversation.
  • Surprises are things that you not only didn't know, but that contradict things you thought you knew. And so they're the most valuable sort of fact you can get.
  • Collecting surprises is a similar process. The more anomalies you've seen, the more easily you'll notice new ones. Which means, oddly enough, that as you grow older, life should become more and more surprising. When I was a kid, I used to think adults had it all figured out. I had it backwards. Kids are the ones who have it all figured out. They're just mistaken.

I agree - the writing I like to do the most happens when I really don't know what's going to happen. I just start with an idea - a question or topic, usually, and think out loud about it.

I like this way of putting it - though I don't practice it often enough. My writing suffers from too few rewrites. Rewriting is something I've heard about again and again as advice given from "the greats" of writing, but I've never found it needful. My stuff all seems to come out fine the first time. :-) I know, of course, that's only my inexperience talking, but the fact remains that I tend to be very satisfied with my writing the first time through it. I suppose, though, that my readers would prefer that I took time to go through and clean it up. That would be an interesting task ... I know that my writing has a plethora of rabbit trails (after all, there's a reason that the parenthesis, the elipses, and the dash are my favorite marks of punctutation ... ). I wonder if re-writing would remove some of those ... or at least, clean them up. I think I really should go back and rewrite something, just to see how much it changes and maybe gets better. It would be an interesting experiment, to say the least.

I wonder to what extent this is true ... if it is true, it is a wonderful truth. I suppose that it really depends on what sort of a mind you have ...

Posted by Leatherwood at 12:17 AM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

April 14, 2005

Oh wow ... it fits!

Psalm 69

For the choir director; according to Shoshannim. A Psalm of David.

Save me, O God,
For the waters have threatened my life.
I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and a flood overwhelms me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head;
Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my enemies;
What I did not steal, I then have to restore.
O God, it is You who knows my folly,
And my wrongs are not hidden from You.
May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord God of hosts;
May those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel,
Because for Your sake I have borne reproach;
Dishonor has covered my face.
I have become estranged from my brothers
And an alien to my mother's sons.
For zeal for Your house has consumed me,
And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
When I wept in my soul with fasting,
It became my reproach.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
Those who sit in the gate talk about me,
And I am the song of drunkards.

But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Lord, at an acceptable time;
O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness,
Answer me with Your saving truth.
Deliver me from the mire and do not let me sink;
May I be delivered from my foes and from the deep waters.
May the flood of water not overflow me
Nor the deep swallow me up,
Nor the pit shut its mouth on me.

Answer me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good;
According to the greatness of Your compassion, turn to me,
And do not hide Your face from Your servant,
For I am in distress; answer me quickly.
Oh draw near to my soul and redeem it;
Ransom me because of my enemies!
You know my reproach and my shame and my dishonor;
All my adversaries are before You.

Reproach has broken my heart and I am so sick.
And I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
And for comforters, but I found none.
They also gave me gall for my food
And for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

May their table before them become a snare;
And when they are in peace,
may it become a trap.
May their eyes grow dim so that they cannot see,
And make their loins shake continually.
Pour out Your indignation on them,
And may Your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp become desolate;
May none dwell in their tents.
For they have persecuted him whom You Yourself have smitten,
And they tell of the pain of those whom You have wounded.
Add iniquity to their iniquity,
and may they not come into Your righteousness.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
And may they note be recorded with the righteous.

But I am afflicted and in pain;
May Your salvation, O God, set me
securely on high.
I will praise the name of God with song
And magnify Him with thanksgiving.
And it will please the Lord better than an ox
Or a young bull with horns and hoofs.
The humble have seen
it and are glad;
You who seek God, let your heart revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
And does not despise those who are prisoners.

Let heaven and earth praise Him,
The seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah,
That they may dwell there and possess it.
The descendants of His servants will inherit it,
And those who love His name will dwell in it.

Psalms 69, NASB95

When I read that this morning, I just had to say ``wow.'' So much of the Psalms matches up perfectly with how I'm feeling ... it fits. So much of it fits. Psalms really is an incredible book.

Posted by Leatherwood at 09:57 AM
This post has been classified as "Prayer"

April 13, 2005

I'm so happy ...

I have spent just under five hours on my Linear Algebra homework, and I have (I hope) just finished it. Thankfully, we were only given six problems, or it would have taken much longer. And it was easy, as I'm sure Moore and Gallagher would be willing to confirm. The reason it took five hours was that I did it in LaTeX - which I'm still in the process of learning. I'm sure I'll go faster once I'm more familiar with the language, but it does seem like an extraordinary amount of effort for a paltry reward.

However, unlike Cynic, I am not constitutionally averse to effort. I did this mostly because I wanted to, in a quirky way. I don't mind working very hard to fulfill a personal quirk. So, if any of you want to see what LaTeX can do with my Linear Algebra homework, I invite you to take a look at this.

I'm satisfied with myself, which is a rare feeling, these days.

Posted by Leatherwood at 09:01 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

April 09, 2005

Faults of the American Christian

The more time I spend on the Internet, reading blogs and politics and the thoughts of others, the more I come to this conclusion about Christians in America - our reputation sucks. To some degree, of course, this can be explained with appropriate Scripture references to Jesus' predictions that His followers would always be hated by the world. Satan hates us and influences the world to hate us, too.

But we'd be fools to think this is the only reason why American Christians have such a foul reputation. If you asked the majority of the people whose opinions I read to describe Christians, I think a standard description would include the following: intolerant, self-righteous, hypocritical, holier-than-thou, prudish, right-wing nutcases ... etc. Heck, if you asked the average evangelical to tell you about the state of the modern American church, he wouldn't say anything good. I've noticed in the last few years that (at least in the circles I run in) the words "the modern church" are a sure lead-in to a tirade about the failings of the Christian Church in these times. And, I'm afraid, my post isn't going to be any different. Not at first, anyway.

This past Friday in chapel, Dr. Patrick Mays was speaking. He said something I thought showed a serious problem among Christians (because I hear it so often). We were discussing sin in the body of Christ, and he looked around warningly at us and said "You may have issues with ... sex! Or alcohol ... and you're living a double life." These words struck me, not because we don't have problems with sex and alcohol (we do), but because I realized much more serious and widespread sins among Christians are almost never addressed. Why didn't he say "You may have issues with ... spiritual pride! Or a graceless attitude toward people who are different from you." Sins like spiritual pride, pharisaism, haughtiness toward people guilty of more obvious sins (like pre-marital sex or alcohol abuse) ... apathy ... gluttony ... lots more.

The modern Christian evangelical church is not famous for the love of its members for one another. It is famous for judging others and serving as the moral watchdog of America. It is famous for its condemnation of premarital sex, abortion, and homosexuality. Don't misunderstand me - premarital sex is rampant in our society and needs condemnation, abortion is murder and needs condemnation, and homosexuality is a perversion and needs condemnation. But we get so focused on the sins of society that we simply don't love one another. The church has become a place where good people go ... or at least, where people go and pretend to be good. It is not a fellowship of ordinary believers who love one another. This is bad.

The battles we modern Christians have chosen to fight - abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex ... I'm beginning to doubt if they deserve our first attention. Isn't pride a much more insidious and deadly sin than any of those? Isn't apathy a greater sin? Those are much more difficult battles to fight. It's obvious (to some degree) if a person is struggling with abortion, homosexuality, or pre-marital sex. It is not obvious at all if a person is struggling with pride or hypocrisy. And, to be honest, the people who most loudly condemn the Three (abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex) are usually the people most guilty of pride or hypocrisy or gracelessness.

I've heard it said that the average lifespan of a Christian is two years. That a person, upon becoming saved, often undergoes a radical transformation that continues for a couple of years ... and then peters off and the person calcifies and doesn't change again before he or she dies. Jesus said that he had not come to call the righteous, but sinners. I think there's more to that than is usually thought. Jesus came for everybody, but He can only reach people who admit they are sinners. Jesus is of no use to the righteous. So I think that an average Christian grows until his behavior is roughly in line with expectations in church. And then, the average Christian considers himself or herself "good" ... and stops growing.

"Brokenness" is a wonderful word, horribly mangled in recent years. So is the phrase "speak truth into a person's life" and ... well, lots of others. I think that "brokenness" is a necessity for growth, meaning that a person has to honestly see themselves as a sinner. I know that, in the abstract, we know that "all of us are sinners," but I don't think many of us feel sinful anymore. We look pretty good. The most deadly and dreadful sins are virtually invisible to the sinner. Pride. Hypocrisy. A critical, unloving spirit.

How, how, how can we see ourselves as we really are?

We Christians have a bad reputation for several reasons:

  1. We talk a great talk, but we live lives that are virtually identical to those of the outside world.
  2. We change on the outside to some degree, but on the inside we remain much the same.
  3. Our churches are a place where we go and listen to sermons and socialize. They are not fellowships of believers who love one another.
  4. The most important attributes of Christians are the least practiced and the most talked about - love, mercy, generosity, kindness.
  5. We condemn outward sins while tolerating worse sins in ourselves. We condemn without grace.
Posted by Leatherwood at 09:17 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

Authority and Experience

Both experience and authority are biased sources for truth. Actually, all sources are biased, but these two sources can be particularly so. A person's experience is an amazingly narrow slice of reality. Some people's slice is wider than others, but it can be simply put that a child raised in Mongolia turns out differently than one raised on the States. I ought to know. If you've experienced poverty, you have a different view of it. If you've seen lazy people getting by on the work of others, your view is colored by that experience.

I've been musing over these thoughts for the last little while, mostly in response to reading the comments of others on WatchBlog. What people believe to be true is enormously shaped by their worldview. Their worldview is shaped by their experiences and their authorities. Political opinions come in at least two kinds - those prompted by authority and those prompted by experience. Most people believe the first thing they were taught. I suppose this is natural - to believe the second thing you were taught would require rejection of the first thing, which requires effort and (often) ridicule, which people avoid. Quite reasonably, of course. Sifting truth and thinking is enormously difficult and confusing work. It's far easier to live with an imperfect worldview, particularly since it really doesn't seem to matter in day-to-day life.

Some people also arrive at their beliefs through experience. Experience is one of the few things powerful enough to challenge a worldview acquired through authority. Some of the most dedicated Democrats are the ones who've seen poverty and hate it passionately and want it wiped off the face of the earth. Some of the most strident Republicans are those who've seen people bumming off the system, getting by on the work of others, and despise those who will not work. Supposedly, neo-conservatives began as "liberals mugged by reality" - a case of authority meeting experience.

Both authority and experience have major problems as bases for truth. Neglecting the obvious fact that relying on authority only puts the problem of knowledge acquisition on others (meaning knowledge has to be gained somehow in the first place for anyone to become an authority), a more serious problem is that authorities differ. This is enormously annoying, particularly in politics, where authorities differ so much. Each side has its own statistics and comebacks. The winner is often the person who has the biggest bag of citations and statistics (which, on WatchBlog at any rate, seems to be leftists most of the time, which partly explains my frustration).

Experience can sometimes help adjudicate between authorities. Whichever authority agrees most with one's experience can be assumed to be correct, which results in a massive simplification of the problem. However, experience is also a faulty guide, for several reasons. First, and most glaringly, experience is too limited. One person's life (particularly when one is very young, as I am) is simply too short to have a sufficient library of experiences to consult. This can be remedied, to some extent, by listening to the experiences of others, but this has several issues.

First, the reason a personal experience is such a wonderful lever in debate is that you know for sure that it's true. No-one can challenge your experience. It was reality. It happened. But when you rely on the experiences of others (my friend lost his job because of X), you are back to authority, because you rely on your friend to

  1. tell the truth
  2. interpret the experience correctly

The problem of learning the right lesson from an experience is extremely knotty. It is quite likely that a Jew and a Nazi, going through the same historical experiences (roughly), learned very different lessons from WWII. The lessons a person learns from his experience depend greatly on that person's point of view. In other words, to a large degree, your worldview determines what you will learn from your experiences.

There are some happier notes. Worldviews are immense things, and it's quite unlikely that a person is mistaken on every point. As a matter of fact, most people's worldviews are reasonably accurate for their daily lives. They have to be, otherwise they'd act like lunatics. They're also reasonably similar.

There's also the supremely happy note that reality really exists. True, our experience of reality is colored by our worldview, but it is not determined by our worldview. Even the most hard-headed worldview can eventually split open under repeated assaults of real life. Even a racist can change through simple interaction with everyday people of a race he or she despises.

Experience is a valuable guide because it is closely related to reality. Even if the lessons you learn from an experience are greatly influenced by your worldview, the little bits and pieces left that don't quite fit the explanation are still stored in your memory. They'll continue to sit there and grow until you deal with them. When enough of your experiences go unexplained, thinking will probably take place. This can be a very good thing.

But, in the end, people believe what they want to. This is a supremely important point. To change a person's mind, you have to persuade them to want to. Beating people upside the head with reality has some effect, though. It can make them want to change, if only to stop the pain of running into reality.

Posted by Leatherwood at 08:33 PM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

April 05, 2005

My Wife Says ...

... that I have to come to bed now and can't post :-). Sorry.

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:33 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

April 03, 2005

My Cup Runneth Over, 1

Dear God,

Now that I've complained, I want to praise. I need to praise.

God on High, thank You so much! Thank You for life! Thanks for the smell of bacon this morning, and the taste of breakfast.

Thanks for the greetings of people at church who know me, who've seen me come to church for four years, and who love me.

Thanks for the (somewhat guilty) pleasure of drawing pictures during church in order to stay awake (and thanks for a wonderful wife to give me that idea). I didn't know that I was any good at art, but I managed a couple of sketches that were a lot better than my usual. There's something fun about that - just making so many little, tiny lines that form themselves into a shape better than one I could create my trying to just draw it. Thanks for the fun of that.

Thanks for the pleasure of serving my wife while she slept by doing some of the chores ... thanks for her pleasure and her happy face (and her kisses!). Thanks for the simple pleasure of cleaning things ... of wiping soap and warm water across a surface and having it wipe the nastiness away, leaving the dish clean and sparkling. Thanks for the grapefruit smell of our dish washing detergent - I've always loved it. Thanks for the delight of simple things today - the smell of clean laundry, the feel of a clean floor under my bare feet, which is its own pleasure! Thanks for the feel of bare feet in the grass and on the pavement, and that winter is over and I can stroll barefoot again.

Thanks for the joy of taking my wife to see a movie as a surprise, and for the fun of a good G-rated film. Thanks for the amazing wonder that is modern film - the way that the picture looks so real ... and the way we humans have learned to act in such a way that we can almost believe that it's real. Thanks for pretty girls and the pleasure it is to see them ... especially the pleasure it is to lay my eyes on the most beautiful one of all ... the woman You gave me.

Thanks for the fun of driving with the windows down and the air blowing through the car. Thanks for the weather today - it was so clear and perfect and gorgeous! I wonder what the weather will be like in Bellingham?

Oh - thanks for the fun of talking with my mother-in-law over the phone today. God, You have me what seems to be an incredibly rare gift - a wonderful mother-in-law. Thanks for her concern for us ... even me. Thanks for the fun of listening to her and Nikki talk together over the phone today.

Thanks for the fun of shopping at a different place, and finding everything we needed (and a little more). Thanks for giving us all the money we need and more ... thanks that we had enough to pay for what we bought today. Thanks that tomorrow is my wife's birthday, and thanks for bringing her gift in on time. Thanks for how it sparkles and shines ... like her eyes will tomorrow, I hope. Thanks for dinner, and the simple pleasure of hot dogs. Thanks for the glorious invention and taste of ketchup, and for the wonderful grill my grandmother and grandfather gave us as a wedding present. Thanks for being able to watch fun movies with my wife.

Thanks for a chance to write. Thanks for this computer, and for the blessing and joy it is to play with it and to write. Thanks for my friends who'll read this (at least, I hope they read this far!) - it means so much to me to have other people listen to me, listen to what I say and what I feel and what I mean. Thanks for their love.

God, You are good. You have been good to me. So very, very, very good to me. You have blessed me exceedingly and wonderfully. My life is blessed and filled with wonderful things. I love You. A lot.

There is more. There is You.

You died for me. You forgave me. You chose me as Your own child. You comfort me. You answer me (sometimes with silence). You love me. You care about me. You've never abandoned me, never forgotten me, never turned Your back on me. Your love has been constant. Your faithfulness has been steady. Your grace has always been there for me. You have always, always, always loved me. You have accepted me. You have dressed me in white.

There is no-one like You. No-one so faithful. Dear God, I worship You, giving You all my praise and adoration, for You alone are worthy of it! You alone are worthy of my highest praise. You alone are good. Great is the name of the Lord, famous above all else in the earth.

You, O Lord, are good. Your love endures forever. And I claim You as my God. But You first claimed me as Your own.

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:59 PM
This post has been classified as "Prayer"

The Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1

Dear God:

I'm sorry. Sorry for disappointing You. Sorry for wasting the gifts You've given me. You gave me so much, yet all I seem to be able to make these days are bad choices. Day after day slips by. Precious time You've given me. And I waste it. I'm so sorry about my homework. So sorry it doesn't get done. I'm sorry I've fallen so far behind as regards my devotional life as well. I'm sorry for failing.

Thanks for the things I got to do today. Thanks for a chance to make breakfast, go to church, do the laundry, clean up home, watch Ice Princess, go shopping, eat dinner, and watch Pretender episodes. I loved it. I enjoyed it.

But it probably wasn't a good idea. I'm desperately far behind in homework and haven't done any over the weekend. It's madness to do the things I do.

Father, what shall I say? Shall I ask You what I should do? Isn't it perfectly clear? I should work hard to try to salvage what I can of my semester. I should do my best. I should throw myself into my schoolwork, and do it as unto You. Isn't that what You'd tell me to do? Isn't that what You want from me?

You gave me my academic career. You gave me my ability. You intended that I use it to glorify You. Are You honored by my legacy this last semester? By a string of missed assignments, half-completed work, and skipped classes? By a complete failure to work on the project that mattered most? Are You honored by that? Are You going to be honored if I fail to graduate, as seems possible?

And is my sorrow and pain of any use? Are my apologies any good? I suppose they're only good if I back them with actions, with change. They're only good if I turn around and work as hard as I can to salvage what I can. God, I have to admit, I don't think anything is going to change. I think I'm going to crash this semester with all the grace of a helicopter without a main rotor. So what good are my apologies? What good is my pain?

Don't You despise me? Despise me for what I'm doing? What I've done? What I'm going to do?

God, it hurts. Every failure hurts. Every missed class hurts. At my failure regarding the Phoenix project is like a knife, always stabbing, always accusing me. It hurts, but so what? Without repentance, without change, it's only self-destructive narcissism.

All this is what it seems like, feels like, and how my mind groks the situation. But You say, "no." You say that all this is Your doing. That You are willing to do this - to let me come to the brink of the abyss (or what seems like it) for Your own purposes. That Your purposes are far deeper and higher than merely getting my schoolwork in order or living my life according to the rule. That You've done this to me - that You want me to trust.

God, what should I do? This is all well and good for prayer, but tomorrow, I have to make choices about actions. And my conscience is going to want me to work hard and my inclinations are going to want to procrastinate and waste what little time I have. And all the time, my despair will be weighing me down, crushing me. "Trust Me" is all well and good, but what do I do? What do You want me to do? What do You want?

God, do I even hear You? I have an imagination; I can imagine Your voice as easily as my own. How do I know what is true? How do I know what voice to heed, whom to listen to?

God, help me. I'm alone ... and I know that's all my fault (like everything else) - I've pushed people away, held everyone at an arm's distance, refused help. I don't know what the answer is. I don't know what to do. I don't understand. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I failed.

Posted by Leatherwood at 11:41 PM
This post has been classified as "Prayer"

April 01, 2005

Colors tinkering

I've just tweaked the text color for my blog - I got a number of comments telling me it was hard on people's eyes. Is the new color any better? Do you have any good suggestions? I love Wilson's colors, but I don't want to just copy them. Any reactions?

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:19 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

Reflections on S*P

In the past few days, since Cynic and Master Ross posted links to Something Positive (S*P)'s Easter mini-series of comics. I'd noticed S*P once or twice before, mostly on the doors of various people at school, but I was intrigued. I started from the beginning and took about two and a half days, reading through just over a thousand comics that have been posted for that site since 2001.

It was definitely an experience. S*P is a very cynical strip laced with black humor, sexual innuendo (and worse), foul language, and a certain bitter edge towards Christians. But it's more than that. Every few strips, some gem pops out of the strip that stops and makes you think. While I'm pretty sure its creator, Milholland, would despise me (he has a rather dim view of people in general and Christians in particular), he's earned my respect. His treatment of Christianity is harsh but just. He also criticizes hypocrisy in any form, praises people willing willing to think and be fair to those different from themselves, and mocks a lot of other subjects that need lampooning. Additionally, it was (to some degree) an excursion outside the "bubble" of LeTourneau and my own cloistered circle of immediate notice.

Part of me is now worried about venturing into the world after college. I think that I'll find a fair number of people who share Milholland's thoughts towards Christians without sharing his fairness. I'll meet people who differ drastically from me in how they speak, how they think, and what they believe. And, after reading a few years' worth of S*P, I have a better idea about what people will respect, what they will listen to, and what they will despise. Quite simply, it is not going to be easy. In reading his work and in my debates on WatchBlog, I've run across some very keen minds that fundamentally disagree with mine. To some extent, I feel knocked off balance. I'm still not quite sure how to conduct myself. At the moment, I'm taking (or trying to) a very meek stance internally, in response to a great deal of criticism of Christians that I am increasingly feeling is justified. Many Christians do tend to be selectively moral, judgmental, rude, and unkind. Our reputation really sucks.

I'm wary of doing anything that might make it worse. I don't want people to see me that way. Even more important, though, is that I really don't want them to see Jesus that way. I don't want them to see Christianity the way they do. But the only way to make people see it any differently is to live it differently. Christians are masters of the talk, but we're ordinary people in the walk. There really isn't any surprise there - Christians are no worse than most people. The sad thing is that they really aren't much better, not on the inside. Actually, I suppose that isn't quite true. I do think that there's a serious difference in our campus from secular campuses, and it isn't all bad. It isn't all judgmentalism and self-righteous hypocrisy. There really is a genuine Christian spirit in some of the people here. Christians really are different ... but not much. And pride chokes our faith and our witness.

And pride catches us all ... especially me. I tend to try to counter it with a sickly-noxious sort of groveling humility. This is also wrong. How in the world can a person develop a quiet dignity and humility?

I think dignity comes from knowing your faith. When you've studied it and researched it and critiqued it and thought about it and still believe it's true, you can have a certain dignity when the world criticizes you. But the awful danger is that it too easily becomes pride, when you stop listening to the world. Dignity is easily faked - pride with a false gilding of humility will do. How do you keep from faking it?

Humility comes from recognizing your sin. Not from merely confessing your sin, but realizing that your heart is twisted. It also comes from honestly respecting the people you want to save. It comes from realizing that many times, non-Christians show Christ better than we do. It comes from realizing that your enemies often have some truth as well. When you realize that, you can humble yourself and ask that they teach it to you. Humility is also easily faked - it's easy to say nice, humble-sounding words. It's easy to fool yourself into thinking that you're humble. I suppose a really humble person is the only person in all the world who doesn't realize that they're humble. They merely recognize that they're honest about themselves.

It's an interesting world I'm preparing to venture into. I hope God can use me in some way in it.

Posted by Leatherwood at 10:03 PM
This post has been classified as "Soliloquy"

I'm ... ARDITH?!?

This can't be right ... though I suppose you left out a "Leatherwood" option.

You're Ardith!

Which Member of the Shadow Council Are You?
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Posted by Leatherwood at 05:01 PM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"
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