Words from a Father

Husband of One, Father of Four

Category: Suggested Reading

382. Quotes: C.S. Lewis on Excellence and Craft

“If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.”

—C.S. Lewis (29 November 1898–22 November 1963), author, professor, critic, academic

Advertisements

381. America’s Declaration

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

—From America’s Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

362. Essay: Axiomatic Things

An axiom is something that is self-evidently true.

There are several things I believe are axiomatic: love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. These qualities have no equal in the animal kingdom, they hint at more than biological processes, they are beyond simplistic facts or emotions, and the fact that they even exist seems mystical. On the negative side, selfishness, guilt, and — at times — worry seem axiomatic as well, especially due to their internality and when set in context to the six concepts above.

Love

Love has a singularity to it; it is focused on only one person, not on the many or all. Even for all our attempts at defining and expressing love, it still retains its mystique and majesty. It is experienced but still not understood. It moves the strong and the weak, yet is aloof from explanation. It makes kings fall and raises paupers in the experience of grandeur. It captures the masses but finds its expression only in the singularity of relationship. Love is mystical in that it is the one-in-a-million lightning strike that happens every minute of every day. Love is common alchemy.

Justice

Justice is simply not attainable in this world. Yes, thieves are caught and murderers serve their time, but how often do the guilty go free and the innocent receive punishment undeserved? To be true justice, it must inherently have many necessary components. It must firstly be exhaustive — in its knowledge of the people involved, what makes them who they are, the beliefs they hold as true, the background of the situation, the cultural milieu, their psychological and biochemical state, their intentions, their actions, their emotional dullness, and much more.

Justice must also be perfect. It must be correct in its assigning of blame and innocence. It therefore is not mathematical, but intensely personal. The act of administering justice is not by rote, but by intervention and distinction and intuition. Justice uses something outside of itself while reaching within the complexity of humanness to judge. Humans are able to distinguish between facts, but justice is more than factual distinction. However you want to phrase this, justice is completely moral, or righteous, or pure. It is right and never wrong. Justice is also imbued with impartiality. It shows no favoritism and employs no emotion even while penetrating the heart — the core — the essence — of who that person is. This is the paradoxical part of justice, the non-emotional part that reaches within the emotions of a human to satisfy this great longing of every person.

What about the personal part of justice? Not the part that holds to a justice out there somewhere, but the part that has experienced a tragic wrong. The part that says, “I was wronged and it needs to be put right.” In that situation, our heart cries out for payback. This again demands a person able to step into our situation, feel our devastation, know all the external issues, and move swiftly on our behalf. This kind of justice is partially a move to satisfy our heart and restore peace within us. But how would anything impersonal know us within? Neither a rock nor a dog can know the internal workings of a grasshopper. A gorilla does not intuit what it would be like to be a hummingbird, but we humans do. We can even imagine what a gorilla would think being a hummingbird would be like. Personhood is the only thing that can open this kind of knowledge for investigation, and justice is intensely personal and interior.

Have you noticed that children, in their innocence, have a distinct love of and desire for justice?

I say justice is axiomatic because there is nothing so pure, so wise, so exhaustive in its understanding of mankind, and yet so unsentimental as true justice. And this, to me, is what makes justice an expression of a person.

Humility

We are by nature self-centered hoarders. Humility is the only thing standing in the way of our nature; humility is undeniably the hinderance to what makes us human. Achieving is no longer about being the best at something, but about having the most. Interior qualities — what was called character in bygone times — have been replaced with fleeting stratosphere-bound counts. It’s now the most gold medals rather than the best match; the most world records rather than the best attitude and form; the most money rather than best life; the most sponsorships rather than the best product; the most readers rather than the best content; the most votes rather than the best plan. It’s now about having rather than being.

Children are the generational reminder of our selfishness. Their perpetual clutching is interrupted only by outwardly congenial play contrived to gain more, and by fleeting bouts of tears over what is not clutched, their intention to clutch more, and who stole what from their clutches. Selfishness is to humanness what air is to breathing — necessary, pervasive, interior, and insatiable.

So then why teach humility? Humility is not an impulse we have, and “to deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.” Humility makes us weak, takes away our resolve, and leads us to unnecessary self-sacrifice at times. There is nothing so devastating to our own nature as humility, so there is no applicable reason to encourage its existence.

But who can deny the position of greatness that humility holds within the human experience? Becoming a good cook has its roots in who we are: we need food to survive as a species. There’s an obvious connection there. Humility, however, is categorically alien to humanness. There is no precursor within our nature or our needs. I say humility is axiomatic because there is little else so admired while emerging out of nothing mankind finds within their nature.

Mercy

Mercy is the desire of all who encounter true justice. Mercy is the human request when faced with our undeniable self. Our known guilt — that internal neon sign with the blazing letters, Wrong Way — drives us to beg for mercy. We want what we don’t deserve. “I admit I did wrong, but please do not hold me accountable for what I did. Please do not hold me to the standard.” The request for mercy does not lie or color the situation favorably, it simply asks, “Please. Please don’t.” Mercy relies on the fact of a personality who has the power and the will to make just such a decision. Mercy cannot be acquired from a force or an automaton. It claims that there is something beyond the right and the wrong and it asks to be judged on a scale of intangibles. It is an appeal to a standard beyond and above justice itself. From a being who is perfect, mercy asks nothing short of a miracle. And without mercy, mankind becomes something it was not intended to be.

But where is mercy in nature? The cyclone shows no mercy to the land or its inhabitants, neither does the earthquake or tidal wave. The prey does not beg for another chance; the predator would never give it. It is not just that nature has not produced mercy of a sort, but it could not ever even imagine it.

Have you ever noticed that we, being not children anymore and knowing the depth of our wickedness, naturally desire mercy? When the police pull us over, all we really want is mercy, the precise thing we don’t deserve at that moment. And when someone has crashed into us, all we really want is to withhold the exact thing they don’t deserve as well. Since we can choose to request, to grant, and to withhold mercy in the face of guilt, and since we do all this while minding the scales of justice — none of which is observed in the elements or among the animals — I say mercy is axiomatic.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the sister of mercy. Mercy chooses not to act; forgiveness chooses not to keep record. Forgiveness wipes away what was done. Without forgiveness, our indebtedness for carrying out our nature in selfish acts would be insurmountable. Mercy without forgiveness would also breed a kind of contempt — the kind that chooses to not seek justice, but despises being continually wronged and has vowed to keep an account.

Forgiveness is the bridge between mercy and hope. Without the hope that things can change, that situations can get better, and that people can improve, forgiveness is futile. Said in reverse, because we have positive hope, we can choose to not keep record (forgive) and extend the hand of peace to those who have wronged us (mercy).

Forgiveness is not seen amongst the animal kingdom. No cheetah bumps into another during a sprint and genuflects, “Pardon me.” A bird accidentally pecking up the wrong morning food gives not the slightest apology for his absentmindedness to his unintended prey, but we offer an “Oops” with a nervous laugh if we grab the wrong cup of coffee from the prepared orders. Animals find no need to make something right because they have no standard of right and wrong. The utter lack of oughtness in nature makes ours all the more distinct, and therefore sets forgiveness in the category of an axiom.

Hope

Hope seeks more. Trust is inherent in hope. Better is inherent in hope.

Hope is not seen in nature; where it is hinted at, it is being superimposed by us. Winter is boundaried by the turning of spring, but this is not hope. The animal world and the insect population and the non-evergreen foliage do not wait in hope of spring, they simply travel the course of their instinct or according to nature’s seasons. Plants do not hope for a more lush location, do not seek out greener pastures, do not long for equality or fight for rights. Animals do not hold out hope that next year’s harvest will be better, that humans will be more humane, or that they may be represented fairly amongst their predators. And when predators do strike, there is no protest of fair warning or accusations of cheating the system. Nature has no hope of better and does not experience trust issues. There’s no job market for “Fawn and Foliage Counseling Services.” Nature is comprised much of instinct; hope, however, is definitely not instinctual.

Humanness and Beyond

On one hand, we humans are such selfish beings that we must invent ways to deal with the entailing guilt. “I want” and “Mine” do not need to be taught. We want to enjoy drinking soft drinks but despise the calories, so we buy a diet drink. If we don’t want caffeine, we choose a caffeine-free diet drink. And if we don’t want a manufactured sweetener, we can get an all-natural caffeine-free diet soft drink. In almost any flavor, natural or unnatural. Putting ourself first comes natural; assuaging our guilt, an imminent second place.

On the other hand, we seek so much of what we do not deserve, what is contrary to our own nature and to nature in general. But these undeserved things — love, justice, humility, mercy, forgiveness, and hope — are necessary for our existence. They are ideals made tangible in small glimmers. They are the sublime qualities seen in irregular pulsar bursts from another human’s actions.

We feel them, we know them, we need them, and — mark this — we are not human without them. Examples of the person who has removed one of these from their life are only found in two places. The first is in the self-imposed exile of despair, leading to bitterness, leading to aloneness. The second is in the volumes of tragic works produced by “artists” which crescendo in stunning sorrow. Without one of the six parts of our axiomatic humanness, we end up with either the masquerade of fiction or actual wretchedness. One makes for dramatic tension, the other for detestable company. We take part in one because it is “just a story,” the other is avoided because of its life-draining misery.

It seems clear to me that these six concepts are from something categorically different than nature or biological processes, mathematics or emotions, chance, or philosophy. They do not arise from anything lower than us or equal with us, but from something beyond us, from someone more pure and whole than we ever have been. They are eternal, personal, interior, and necessary, which when taken together serve as an introductory summation of God.

353. Essay: Technology’s Gray Area

It used to be that someone was either dead or alive, no middle ground. Think of ethical problems encountered in the medical field. You’ll quickly notice positive and negative sides to the dilemmas. More importantly you’ll notice that these dilemmas came not from assuming that the natural progression of life and death has its place, but from how technology has created these gray areas in the first place. In its altruistic quest to help, technology has stepped in to bring back from the brink those who have a chance of survival. It has also created entire categories of significant ethical problems.

Neither the benefits nor the dilemmas would exist without technological intervention, but one of my true concerns is that for all the progress made, we are becoming less human.

Short-term Intervention or Long-term Lifestyle?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a great thing. It is a short-term intervention that gives the injured a fighting chance. Surgeries also are short-term interventions aimed at getting the person back to working order. But what about the body that isn’t fighting, that must stay on a machine that breathes for them?

I have seen a machine that lays down layered cells like bricks to build a 3-D organ, such as a heart. And then the heart contracts, functioning all on its own as it should, so it seems sensible to think we can keep a physical body functioning long after the person is already gone. And this is where most of the ethical issues are encountered. Now that we’ve placed the body on a machine that perpetuates its normal functions, is it right or wrong to take that away? The materialist, meaning the one who does not believe there is a spiritual or metaphysical realm, hangs all hope on sustaining the body. If they are right and there is nothing more than what we see around us, there is no other logical choice but to sacralize the physical universe.

The problem is, there’s only one way to find out whether or not the person is already gone. And it’s irreversible.

Function Versus Life

To me, the presence of the spirit within the person determines whether they are still alive or not; the spirit is the essence of a person. If the spirit is gone, the body still can carry on its functions, but function is not an indicator of life. Function only indicates that the physical body has the ability to continue carrying out the processes it is suited for and has been doing all along. Of course the answer is, “Yes, the body can function as it has been,” because that is precisely the intransitive definition of function: To work or operate in a particular way.

A computer functions, but does not have life. A storm functions, but does not have life. A bypass machine functions, but does not have life. A liver is an organ with a function, but it does not have life. Transplanting an organ does not transplant life; it only grants function to another who is already living. If being alive is not solely due to an organ, it must be due to something else or to several other things. Life is obviously connected to the material world without being inherently bound by function. It seems this distinction between function and life opens the door to deeper questions of the metaphysical.

Material Versus Spiritual

For the materialist, the body becomes sacred because it is all we have. But if the body is incapacitated, what good is it to perpetuate its functions? Like one dealing with numbers rather than human lives, the materialist is left to draw precise lines delineating value from worthlessness in the body’s varying states of function. Historically, governments have stepped in with responses aimed at appeasing the two demi-gods of religious inscrutability and science’s claims, only to produce more ethical dilemmas. Materialism gives no clear answer to what makes us human and what makes us alive.

My Current Thoughts

This is where I presently stand on this issue. The natural progression is from life to death. There may be several short-term interventions — which include surgeries — to give a person a second chance without increasing ethical dilemmas. However, long-term interventions almost always step into the gray. All life is precious, sacred, and valuable. But, believing that there is a spiritual realm as I do, I do not think that this life is all there is or that the body is all we have.

For those believing in a spirit realm, the spiritual life given by God makes the body sacred; all things flow from the primacy of the spirit, which is where the idea of human dignity comes from. Spirit and body together is what makes an individual that person rather than another person, and the presence of a person’s spirit is what I believe makes them alive. It doesn’t make ethical decisions any easier, but you may gain a sense of clarity if they are made with this in mind.

344. Suggested Reading: Wild At Heart and Captivating

One of the books that most impacted me was Wild At Heart by John Eldredge, and eventually the companion book Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge.

The first is written to men, but is quite eye-opening for women as well. Its premise is that men seek three primary things: an adventure to live, a battle to fight and win, and a beauty to rescue. This is seen in movies, business ventures, sporting events, and the art forms we are surrounded by, as well as by the lives of men everywhere.

These are the things that motivate him so if one of these aspects is taken away from him, he will begin to fade. He may cover it up or ignore it as much as possible, but like a shell on the beach he will feel drained of all life. So use the thrill of the journey, the satisfation of success, or the mystique and transcendent nature of beauty to both your benefit, but never as manipulation. Hard work is a great opportunity, but a man whose heart is alive is better than a man who just works. This book resonated so deeply that I made reading it one of the things your mom had to do before we got married.

Captivating was released a few years later and balances the equation from the woman’s side, with the understanding that a woman always feels that she is “too much” and “never enough” simultaneously. A woman wants to be the beauty and be swept up into an adventure with her great love.

Do yourself the favor of not speeding through them just to check them off the list, though. It’s worth it.

343. Quotes: Steve Turner’s Poem, “Creed”

“Creed”

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes, UFOs, and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man, just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher, though we think His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same — at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its
compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn.

We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors.
And the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.

If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear

State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

—Steve Turner’s (English journalist) satirical poem on the modern mind

336. Helvetica’s Use

If you must use the Helvetica typeface, don’t use it in paragraphs; that’s not what it was created for. (And don’t even mention the pariah, Arial.)

Helvetica’s character forms are not distinct enough, the shapes are pushed toward the outside of the space they hold, which makes them oddly squat, and the leading (fixable) and counter spaces (unfixable) are too tight in automated templates where the point size is small. These problems start getting reduced only as the words get into heading and display sizes — around 16 points or so. But, then use it for headings and not for text; and feel free to use all caps here. That’s where Helvetica can shine.

323. Essay: The Shrewdness of God

When I say shrewd, I mean having sharp powers of judgment; being astute, clever, and wise.

Many have received a promise from God within a certain situation, only to be taken out of the situation without completing their task. They are immediately disappointed because they feel God has broken a promise. Keep in mind a few things during these times. The promise was most likely true, but it did not revolve around you; God can still get it done even with you out of the picture. He wanted you to get done as much as you could possibly do, and you now have fulfilled your current role, completed your current task.

God is so astute that He knows more about what makes us human than we do ourselves. He is shrewd when it comes to dealing with our egos and our arrogance. You could say He tricks us for our own good. But here’s the most important part. Would you really have gotten so much done if God had not convinced you that you would be the major player?

306. Essay: Love’s Singularity

Love has a singularity as its object that is not seen in other qualities. Unlike most other qualities, love is focused on one, not on many.

A diluted focus is seen in negative qualities such as selfishness and pride. The selfish “mine” feeling is against everyone else. Pride also is against the masses. It is the belief that you are better or greater than most others rather than just one other.

A diluted focus is seen on the positive side as well. Think of peace. It is not singular in its expression, but corporate. You may desire internal peace, but world peace seems a more noble idea. When we opine, “He is the most humble man I have ever met,” we are comparing the one against the many. Humility seems best recognized when compared against the backdrop of groups, not primarily in comparing two people. And trust is a quality an individual might have, but it is toward most things, not one thing. We trust gas stations to have the kind of fuel our vehicles need. We trust grocery stores to have the staples of diet. Though we may prefer one station or store over another, that does not affect the basic element of trust.

Love, though.

It’s undeniably different. To say, “I love all cats or all cucumbers,” is misguided; no one has experience with every living cat or harvested vegetable. Saying love is aimed at a singular object or person seems pointless to even state. We intuitively understand the singular focus of love. Of course you love that person. How else could you love? Could you love all people? No, because love requires a deeper commitment, a more thorough understanding, and a greater connection to one than all others. That is love’s meaning.

Love carries a singularity within it. Just think: If your beloved were to pass from this life, would it suffice to replace them or to love all people now? Tell the parents who have lost a child that they can just have another. Will that work? Tell a seventeen-year-old whose father was killed by a drunk driver that there will be no difference during his high school graduation because his uncle will be there.

Replacements make love beggarly.

The singularity of love is so natural to us, I feel I have too much belabored the point.

295. Quotes: G.K. Chesterton on Equality and Evolution

“It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”

St. Thomas Aquinas, by G.K. Chesterton, 1933

“The Declaration of Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they were certainly evolved unequal. There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine origin of man.”

What I Saw in America, by G.K. Chesterton, Chapter 19, 1922

%d bloggers like this: