Friday, March 24, 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lemons and Limes Revisited

You may recall that in July of 2015 I invested in some lemon and lime trees that were on sale at the Nursery.  My idea was a sort of French Greenhouse thing, moving the trees in when Winter came and moving them out after the cold.

My idea never really worked in practice.  Citrus trees it turns out, are incredibly sensitive creatures and I would end up losing leaves twice a year;  when I moved them in and when I moved them out.  As you can imagine, this cut down on the yield of any fruit.

Finally this year, in a fit of desperation, I took on of my lime trees that literally had four leaves left on it and planted it outdoors.  What did I have to lose, I thought?

Guess what happened?


No-one is more shocked than I. Really.  I really thought it was done.  It even gave me blossoms:

I swiftly moved to get the others in:

And this is my true experiment.  No leaves at all.  I am anxious to see if anything happens here as well:

This does not obviate the problem of winter, of course.  I will still have to figure out a way to protect them for true cold snaps.  But already the results are enough to convince me this is what I should have done in the first place.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How We Make God To Be

“Those strange beings that populate the world of mythology and superstition are not pure creatures of fancy. The imagination created them by taking the ordinary inhabitants of earth and air and sea and extending their familiar forms beyond their normal boundaries, or by mixing the forms of two or more so as to produce something new. However beautiful or grotesque these may be, their prototypes can always be identified. They are like something we already know.” - A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

This comment, crossing my eyes last night, caused me to stop and look afresh.  I have read this book at least four times and never before has this presented itself to my consciousness in such a fashion.

But it is true, is it not? I would argue that most in Western Culture wish for a spiritual dimension to exist and be true - or if not spiritual, than a dimension in which there is something "Out There Amidst The Stars" ready to press into us.  We have no idea what these creatures would be like, so we tend to present them in thoughts and forms that we can comprehend. Our fantasy, our science fiction, even some religions are all like this - oh, we generally tend to picture those beings as intelligent and kindly (except of course in apocalyptic fiction), but they still hold some tangible grip in the world we know.

The Christian Church, of course, has done this to God as well.

I suspect in the beginning the Church never intended to do this on the whole.  They sought to make God more "culturally relevant" to the people of their time - after all, late 19th and early 20th century Western Civilization was bursting with ideas and technology and somehow God had to fit into it all.  The problem, I suppose, was that rather than the Church separating God as He is and the world as it is and hold both ideas separately, they were combined (I would argue this is no great feat.  We constantly hold two ideas together in the same time; I suspect some were just not as diligent about their philosophy and theology as they should have been).

The result?  Tozer captures it well:

"Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like, and what He is like is of course a composite of all the religious pictures we have seen, all the best people we have known or heard about, and all the sublime ideas we have entertained.

If all this sounds strange to modern ears, it is only because we have for a full half century taken God for granted (n.b. published 1961) . The glory of God has not been revealed to this generation of men. The God of contemporary Christianity is only slightly superior to the gods of Greece and Rome, if indeed He is not actually inferior to them in that He is weak and helpless while they at least had power.”

In other words, the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, of David and Isaiah and the Apostles, is now not the God of the Christian church.  Add on another 56 years and we have almost a century of taking God this way.

There is a litany of items that could be inserted here about what the Church has made God, most of which some of you will heard.  That is not really the point:  the point is that we have made God something other than what He is; should we be anything but surprised when, like Tozer suggests, His glory no longer manifests itself among this generation?

God, Tozer argues, is completely other. Those that saw Him used words such as "like" and "as" express what they saw, acknowledging that what they were actually seeing and experiencing was completely different from the world the dwelt in.  But we have doggedly tried to tie God to our conception and our physical laws and what we think a supreme being should look like, act like, and be like.

God is Other.  Which is what makes the coming of Christ all the more amazing (something else we enervate by this doctrine of "like us').  The Unknowable, the Unsearchable, the Un-Us became like us.  Suddenly God was here, present among us, not a Raging Fire and and Unapproachable Light but a man we could see and talk to. 

Which makes for the relevant question for me:  Am I treating God like He is? (I am not, of course, and this is mostly written to me).  And more importantly if I am not, how do I begin to to do so in a way that reflects who He really is?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brought To You By Rabbit

So one of the things that Kymber recommended I do is take 30 minutes a day and just sit.  Time has been a bit on the unavailable side to sit outside, so this blog comes to you courtesy of the Rabbit in the chair.

The Rabbit is Midnight, our big black bunny who will have her eighth birthday with us in August, our first rescue bunny.  She is sitting here, next to me on her pink towel as I type.

Rabbits, if I have not said it enough, make excellent pets.  They are quiet.  They are relatively clean, if you keep up with their litter box - and their waste (combined with hay and wood pellets) makes an excellent mulch for the garden.  Their food is inoffensive - hay, hay pellets, and fruits and vegetables.  For those that trouble themselves about such things, they are supposed to be as smart as cats.  They purr, in a sort of way, just like cats (actually, they grind their teeth together.  Means the same thing).  They give bunny kisses, also like cats.  They are incredibly fluffy.  And they have personalities.

Midnight has a very restrained, reserved personality.  She generally prefers attention on her own terms.  She will happily sit beside you (as she is doing now) rather quietly and contentedly.  She does not seem to be bothered extensively by the new puppy (as opposed to I-bun, who is definitely not a fan).  She gets rather excited about the carrot that comes her way every morning - in fact, she is rather insistent on it and gets grumpy if it is delayed.

But the best thing about her- and really about any bunny - is just the sense of calm and peace you have when you are with them.  I am not sure what it is - all I know is that being with the bunnies makes me far more calm and happy than not being with them.

Sometimes peace is just a few bunny hops away.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Reliving Regrets

I have a tendency to relive my regrets.

It is not something that I consciously set out to do, a sort of penitential walk down the memories of my life.  Usually there is very little penitence  involved. Nor does it seem to be some kind of perspective seeking exercise, a means to examine the errors of my life and learn from them.

No penitence.  No learning.  Just that shock of the bad decision and the moment right after it, played over and over again.

It surprises me how vivid these memories can be.  I have difficulty remembering important items for my employment or a conversation I should have knowledge of,  yet can remember a situation that happened 5 years ago - or 30 - with an accuracy that would put any film maker to shame.  Not just the decision, but the time, the scene, the cast of the sunlight, the scents that were present and of course the decision that inevitably went horribly wrong.

I would love to say that there is some usefulness in all this - and to a certain extent, I suppose that there is. I find I write far more clearly about my failures and regrets than I ever do about my successes, partially stemming from (no doubt) that ability to remember them so clearly (I suspect Augustine of Hippo suffered from the same thing; his Confessions  have a lot of rather sordid details in them for someone that eventually compose The City of God).  But the ability to write well of them seems a scant reward for the suffering that one endures in recalling them.

Just let go, you suggest?  Easily said in words, more difficult to perform in practice.  In a way, regrets are often like music from your youth:  you cannot hear it dispassionately but will always find yourself caught up in where you were and what you were doing when you heard that song (Example:  Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, first heard in a specific gym on a band trip in 1981). There are too many emotions caught up in the experience to ever just become a dispassionate viewing exercise.

Just do not remember?  Ah, there may be the rub.  Perhaps I can choose not to remember, but should I?  My regrets often contain within them the seeds of the decisions that did work for the best; the stupidity or greed or lust that were revealed at the denouement for the dead ends that they truly are, leading me to both do better the next time and to ultimately make decisions not based on things like these.  

But perhaps there is a third reason: somewhere buried within the inability to unlive an emotional moment or the learning experience that came out of it, there remains a certain part of me that takes a sort of perverse joy in reliving such things, the constant replaying of a song or clip from a movie until it has burned itself into your brain until you cannot forget it.  I wonder if this would have less to do with an inability to forget and more with that inner core which, knowing we could have done differently and better, extracts the only revenge it knows:  the pain of endlessly reliving the times it was ignored.

Friday, March 17, 2017

On The Knowledge of Scripture

This week at our church group one of the members mentioned a debate she had observed between a Christian scholar and a Muslim scholar.  One of the things that came out of the debate was the comment that Muslims are far better educated in their holy scripture (The Koran) that most Christians are in theirs (The Bible) and thus it creates an impediment in some circles to discussion and debate - after all, went the argument, how can I take you seriously when you do not even know your own holy book?

It was a thought that gave me pause.  It has mirrored some of my own thoughts in the past (in different ways) and gave me a chance to revisit it in a new one.

The Christian, at least in Western culture, finds themselves in a curious position.  On the one hand they are encouraged to seek out knowledge and become experts at something and understand what they believe and why; on the other, the Bible (and I choose it here specifically - I perceive this is not an issue with other scriptures) is not considered something that is worthy of that level of study and knowledge.  Western culture has reduced "religion" to the equivalent of "culture", thereby dividing in their mind what others study and take seriously versus what they can dispense with.

You could make, I think (as Os Guinness did in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds) the cogent argument that the Christian Community in the West - well, perhaps at least the U.S. - does not value the intellect or study of almost anything and thus the Bible falls into that realm.  This is also a fair argument, although I suspect somewhat overstated (I have plenty of highly educated, believing friends and acquaintances where this argument is quietly overlooked - after all, such "uneducated believer" arguments fade away in the face of a engineering/scientific Ph.D. or a legal J.D.).

But I think it is a fair statement to say that, on the whole, Western Christians do not know the Bible as they ought.  Oh, we know of it, know there is an Old and New Testament, know perhaps even that it has 66 books  and maybe even that it was written in a number of languages, but we do not really know it.  We do not know that actual words of it - we may know concepts or themes but not the actual chapter and verse (thus, the phrase "Chapter and Verse") where things appear. We build apologetics and arguments based on feelings, not on the foundational beliefs of our faith.

I concur that there is nothing magical to complete memorization.  The Pharisees memorized the Old Testament and still missed the point of it.  Rote memorization without application will accomplish no more than not knowing at all. But not knowing at all is no better.

I defy those that say such deep knowledge - indeed, such memorization - is no longer possible.  The reality is that we live in an age that glorifies physical achievement and finding the ever expanding limits of the human body. And we glory in the minds of the young which have the ability to apply themselves beyond their years.   We know that in times past people have done such things, that the entire database of a culture existed in the minds of its people - it really more a question of the will and time than it is of what is possible.

I find it interesting that the the stereotypical "wise religious" that exists in our culture is the rabbi or ascetic (even a priest or pastor, I suppose) that has the ability to call up not only the holy Scripture but application of that Scripture.  Sadly, we miss the part that what we value about this is just as applicable to ourselves.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On Rage

It is odd to me how easily a rage can come on.

Perhaps more oddly, it is almost never the doing of an outside force or action.  It is, at least for me, almost always an internal business.

The fault that I have is that I can dwell on something - and once I dwell on anger, it quickly passes over into the realm of blind rage.  It feeds on itself, a sort of personal nuclear fission that grows and rages like a furnace in my soul, building and building until all of my moods and thoughts have been overcome by it.

If I am honest about it, I know when it is happening and could, if I so wished, stop it.  Pretty easily, too:  pick another chain of thought, turn my inner eye away, or even just tell myself "No".  It is a choice and like any other choice, can be chosen otherwise.

I do not, of course.  And that is the more frightening reality.

Why do I do this, I wonder?  Why would I willingly create a holocaust in my heart and soul over something which is almost always unworthy of such an emotion?  And why do I go back - repeatedly - to bathe myself in its fiery and unholy light?

The one thing that is true about rage is that it requires little thought, once achieved.  One's mind is focused and anything like self doubt or an examination of where one has done wrong is banished.  It is a singular emotion, a one way thought pattern to amazing energy and forcefulness of action -  a very dark energy of course, and the sort of forcefulness that can irreparably harm one's own soul or others by harsh words (or worse).  But it can be almost addicting in its power.

So why do I return?  I, as with barrenness of thought, wish I knew.  But it worries me, this willingness to engage in patterns that are neither useful nor helpful.  The only road it leads down is one no sensible person wants to take.