Taking a Break

Thinking Out Loud

Appomattox Court House

The McLean House

The McLean House

The Civil War cost more American lives than any other conflict in our nation’s history. Both the Union and the Confederacy fought with passion. However, only the Union would walk the long hard road to victory. Grant’s Army of the Potomac would finally defeat Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at a little village called Appomattox Court House. On April 12th 1865, Lee’s army laid their weapons down before Union forces. This would prove to be the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

Lee's Seat

Lee’s Seat

Appomattox Court House was not the site of a major battle and so for some time it went by unappreciated. Soldiers were not eager to erect monuments to the fallen because there had only been skirmishes there. After the war, Southerners would not look at Appomattox Court House with pride, but rather as an unhappy ending and the beginning of an unhappy story known as Reconstruction. Needless to say, the locals were not overly enthusiastic about the site. It was not until the 1930’s that Congress would pass legislation to put a monument on the site. The legislation snowballed and created a National Historical Park. The Park’s vision would grow and eventually legislation was passed to create a park in which the original village was restored to its 1865 condition. Thankfully, this vision has been successfully realized with few exceptions.

Grant's Seat

Grant’s Seat

The first thing a visitor to this park realizes is the scope of the park. Driving in, one passes signs designating Grant’s headquarters, Lee’s headquarters, a Confederate cemetery, as well as other historical markers. In order to get to the visitor center, which is located in the Courthouse of Appomattox Court House one has to walk down the old stage roads past several restored period houses. The entire village has been restored (with a few minor exceptions) to its original condition. Visitors are encouraged to explore the park at their own pace. Each building hosts its own exhibits. Some include archaeological finds and others merely help to show what life was like in that time period. The major attraction that every visitor should see is the McLean House. It was there on April 9th 1865, that Lee would officially meet with Grant and agree to surrender his army.

The Courthouse and Stage road.

The Courthouse and Stage road.

Appomattox Court House is largely a self-guided tour. However, there are many knowledgeable Park Rangers on staff to help answer visitor’s questions. At this park it would be advantageous to begin your visit with a Ranger talk. Starting at the visitor center, a Park Ranger will lead a tour group around the grounds and give an oral narrative showing the context and significance of Appomattox Court House.   This talk helps to show visitors how a dying backwater village’s geography tied Lee’s hands and brought an end to the Army of Northern Virginia. Being on site, and seeing the geography helps to explain the military decisions that were made.

A child's room.

A room from the McLean House.

Appomattox Court House is an important part of our nation’s history. It is located just a half hour east of Lynchburg. Before visiting the park it would be wise to first visit their website, located at: http://www.nps.gov/apco/index.htm. Make sure to leave at least two hours for your visit. Cost is $5.00 a carload.

A typical exhibit.

A typical exhibit.

Art Appreciation: A Philosophy of History

Jackson-Pollock

If life is an art than history is a masterpiece.  It is the splattering of paint in a million different directions from trillions of different hands.  Perhaps this painting resembles a Pollock piece, a chaotic and arbitrary exhibition in each stroke.  Maybe each life is a decision to run its own direction with no regard for any overarching narrative except the arbitrariness of decisions.  No meaning beyond each mark on the canvas.

1024px-A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte,_Georges_Seurat,_1884

I believe that history looks more like A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Georges Seurat).  Each life ordered, each life a dot on the canvas of history.  The painting is certainly comprehensible but not from the position of a dot on the page. In fact, the dots themselves have no meaning except what Seurat ascribes to them.  The historian is someone who tries to distance himself from his finite position on the canvas and examine the art of life from the position of the Infinite.

It could be said that the historian is in the business of making picture frames.  The historian has the task of framing sections of this infinitely complex painting into comprehensible bits that each person might marvel at.  The historian has the job of studying an incredibly intricate field and making sense of its pieces.  A good historian’s frame is clear and accurate, not disturbing the brush strokes of the Painter.  A bad historian will use a cloudy piece of glass, he will crop the painting in inappropriate places, and he will distort the brushstrokes to serve his own bias.  A historian must avoid Whiggish history, hagiography, iconoclasm (for iconoclasm’s sake), presentism, over-dramatization, over-simplification and a host of other pitfalls.  Historians have a tremendous responsibility to the public.  As we admire the masterpiece of history we should be awestruck by the complexity and beauty of the narrative and it should create a longing for the One who orders all things according to His will.

This entry was reworked from an earlier version which can be found at: http://dmyhren.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/art-appreciation-a-philosophy-of-history/  

A Christian Defense of the American Revolution

Something strange that I’ve noticed about Christians is that we tend to idolize the Founding Fathers more than most people do. I think that this is ironic when you realize what these men stood for. They were in open revolt to the God-ordained government. Many of the first Americans were devout Christians but they seem to have completely ignored Romans 13… Or did they?

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13%3A1-7&version=NKJV

Romans 13 seems to be pretty clear cut in what it requires of Christians and their obedience to government. Christians should obey the authority placed over them and pay the taxes that are due of them because God put those authorities into power. I totally and completely affirm Romans 13 but I think that perhaps we should take the time to understand what that authority is that God put over us. We need to have a more nuanced view of what the context of the American Revolution actually was before we pass judgment on it.

Magna Carta

Magna Carta

To understand the Revolution we need to understand a few things about the history of British government. Everybody knows that Great Britain has a monarch. When we think of Kings we tend to think that whatever the King wants he gets. His word is law. England is very different. Thanks to the Magna Carta the King’s power is limited. He is not absolute. The King is subservient to the law. This limitation of the government’s power would grow with the English Bill of Rights. This document required the King to seek the consent of the governed who were given representation in Parliament. In the British system, law was king and the government received their jurisdiction (lawful use of lawful authority) from these laws (along with common law).

Caligula: an especially bad Emperor

Caligula: an especially bad Emperor

The Roman system of government that Paul was under when he wrote the book of Romans was not the British system. Rome was established as a Republic that represented its citizens. Unfortunately, Rome evolved into an empire. The Senate lost its power and law became arbitrary. The Emperor could do pretty much whatever he wanted. Several of them passed laws declaring that they were gods. Law was no longer the rule of the land but a man was. The Emperor would turn Romans 13 on its head with some of the laws he spoke into existence. The Emperor would outlaw Christianity. So what should a good Christian do? Should he obey Romans 13 and deny Christ because the ruling official required it? The “law” and Christianity were in conflict. Of course Christians disobeyed the ruling authorities because government had absolutely no authority whatsoever to outlaw their conscience. Despite Rome’s best efforts to prove that law was arbitrary and manmade they failed to convince the early Church that all authority in Heaven and Earth had been given them. No, Rome was still subject to a higher law, just as we are today.

The prophet Elijah pronouncing judgment on Ahab.

The prophet Elijah pronouncing judgment on Ahab.                                                          The story of Naboth’s vineyard: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Kings+21&version=NKJV                                                                                           The story of Jezebel’s death: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Kings+9%3A30-37&version=NKJV

It is Biblical to recognize that the government is subservient to this higher law. God is a god of order and not of chaos. He opposes tyranny and arbitrariness in governments because tyranny is an attempt for man to play God. A tyrant rejects the authority that God allotted for him and instead seeks justification for his authority from power. All authority flows from his being, not from God and the natural law that God put in place to govern us. In Deuteronomy 17:18 God reveals this to us, “Now it shall come about when he [the King of Israel] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.” God shows us that even in Israel the King was subject to the law. The King couldn’t change the law to suit his desires. We read about a King who tried doing this in I Kings 21. It’s the story of Naboth and his vineyard. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel wanted Naboth’s vineyard but Naboth wouldn’t sell it. Naturally, Ahab killed him and took it as his own. God wasn’t pleased at Ahab so he sent the prophet Elijah with a message of doom; basically God was going to end his line and when Ahab died dogs would lick his blood and the dogs would eat Jezebel’s body. God could hardly have spoken more clearly on the subject of tyranny.

Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851

This brings us back to the American Revolution. When the Colonists rebelled were they out of line with Scripture? No, they were obedient to the authority that God placed over them. The American Colonists were not Americans, they were Englishmen who had travelled to an English territory and as such they still held their rights as Englishmen. For many years the crown had allowed self-rule in the colonies. New England had town meetings and Virginia had the House of Burgesses. Law required giving the American colonists representation but having them send representatives across the Atlantic was very inefficient considering how long it took news to travel and how far removed the representatives would have been from their constituents. Given the situation, loose self-rule made the most sense. As long as the British allowed the colonists self-rule they were keeping the law.

"Thus Always to Tyrants"

“Thus Always to Tyrants”

The problem came when the British began to usurp American authority. Suddenly, Parliament began passing laws on the colonies that the Americans could do nothing about. They were not represented. Their rights as Englishmen were violated. Town-Hall meetings were being outlawed and the House of Burgesses was being shut down. It was an abomination. That’s why “No Taxation Without Representation” became such a rallying cry for the movement. It carried a religious undertone. It stirred up memories of Naboth and Ahab. The British were out of order. They had no right to the American’s wallets just like Ahab had no right to Naboth’s vineyard. They weren’t given lawful authority to do so. The British were acting as tyrants. They went against God’s law of order, natural law. They went against their own laws by denying the consent of the governed. The Americans warned the British of this error many times but their council fell on deaf ears.

 

Benjamin Franklin's purposed Seal of the U.S. It depicts Moses leading Israel through the Red Sea.

Benjamin Franklin’s purposed Seal of the U.S. It depicts Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea and the Egyptians drowning in God’s judgment.

 

The British refused to repent of their tyranny. Pride had clouded their vision. They forgot that their authority came from the law and not from themselves. In light of all this, I think it’s time to look back at Romans 13. The British were the ones who were resisting the authority that God had placed over them, not the Americans. The Americans understood that they were not ruled by men but by a system of laws that these men were responsible for carrying out. To obey the British officials would have been like the Early Church denying Christ because Rome said that it was the “law” (although not NEARLY as serious as that the concept still applies here). Law isn’t arbitrary, the mouth of man does not dictate it; on the contrary, it flows naturally from who God is. The Americans were obedient to God and natural law. The British were the ones in revolt.

Fonzie, Mythology, and Celebrity Gossip

I could care less about awards nights.  Awards are nice things to have but I don’t get into the hype.  The only reason I’d watch something like the Oscars is for the fashion.  I totally get into the “Oh wow, she has a red dress!”  And “Can you believe the shoes she has on?!?!?!”  It’s so exciting.  Actually, I’m being sarcastic.  I don’t care about fashion and I didn’t watch the Oscars.  I’ll check which movies got nominated and who won but I don’t really like awards shows, I’m not sure why I’d feel connected to it.  That said, I really liked Nebraska.  It got nominated but didn’t win anything so maybe I’m just sore is all.

Something I do enjoy doing is watching movies.  I like how they remove me from myself and help me experience something bigger.  That’s why I like history too.  I like the feeling of identifying with something outside of me.  I like studying how people work and how cultures shift.  It always seems that no matter what culture you’re looking at the people think that they’re normal.  Obviously, all other cultures are inferior to ours because ours is the best.  If you’re not a red blooded American than you’re not normal.  I am immune from all cultural oddities because I am the measure of man.  If you’re not me than you’re either weird or wrong.  If you’re not a 21st Century American than I’m not sure that I have words for how strange you are.

Forgive me for trying to prove a point.  Deifying yourself and removing all human understanding from your view of the world is pretty arrogant.  So, I thought that I’d turn the lens on us.  Imagine if you were a member of the Mongol Horde, how might you view our society?  What would stick out to you?  Or what if you were an Aborigine?    What habits wouldn’t make sense?  What values seem worthless?  What if you were an 18th Century American?  What cultural patterns would throw you?

There’s probably several things that we could list.  Air conditioning, skyscrapers, movies…  Those aren’t super important to me though.  What about our approach to life is different?

There are a lot of weird things about our time.  One thing that sticks out to me is celebrity.  Why do we care about these people?  Are they people, or something more…  I think that they’re the reason most people watch awards shows.  Somehow we connect with them.

I would like to compare celebrities to Greek gods.  Both have interesting and bizarre mythology.  When you go to Wal-Mart you are bombarded with their mythological literature.  “So and So is Pregnant! Who’s the Dad?”  “100 Best Beach Bodies.”  It’s a bunch of garbage.  We follow them like it’s our national religion.  They do a much better job of proselytizing than even Jehovah’s Witnesses.  People are going to look back and scratch their heads about our love affair with the celebrities.

IMG_0856

The shift is already starting.  The Internet is killing them.  YouTube proved all that you need to become a celebrity is a cell-phone camera.  Facebook and twitter gives us all a platform to proselytize others with our own brand of celebrity.  (Blogs are immune; they are totally normal.)  The Internet is shrinking who celebrities are.  It’s becoming much more pantheistic.  Greek gods are no longer out in Hollywood but they’re right next to you.  If current Hollywood celebrities are an indication of the type of people we are becoming I think I’ll probably move.  There will be a lot more drama here and I don’t like drama.

The man, the myth, the Fonze.

The man, the myth, the Fonz.

Yea though it is with a heavy heart I shall recall the woeful tale of whence I knelt at the altar of Henry Winkler.  Mine cheeks blush with shame at the remembrance of partaking in such a pagan practice.  The sins of mine youth, ah, I look back in disdain at mine own self! Reader, whoever thou art, take note and learn from mine own tragedy, perhaps there is still hope for thee!

 

It was a hot summer day in Sussex, New Jersey.  The great Henry Winkler was visiting the Chatterbox Grill and if you stood in line all day and had $20.00 he would take a picture with you or sign something.  My brother and I were pretty bored so we decided that it was totally worth it.  We stood in line in 95° heat for four hours with a bunch of crazed Happy Days fans so we could bask in the glory of Henry, a god among men.  It was a pretty odd experience and I’d do it again for sure.

When we got our turn he was really nice.  He seemed like a pretty good guy.  He didn’t seem like he had an innate talent that set him apart from anybody else in the parking lot but he was separate from us.  I expected a light descending from heaven upon the T.V. star but it wasn’t there… what a let down.  An even bigger let down for me was the impression I made on him.  Unbeknownst to me, Fonzie also writes children’s books.  Hank Zipzer is the “world’s greatest underachiever,” he’s also in 4th grade and dyslexic, stuff I usually spend my time reading.  My little cousins really liked those books though so they gave us one to get signed.  When I, the star struck fan, shoved my copy of Hank Zipzer at Mr. Winkler I must have made an impression because the look on his face changed.  His expression went from normal to “OH, you must be SPECIAL!”  It was pretty strange, I mistook him for a demi-god and he mistook me as handicapped.  The truth was that we were both just regular guys at different stations of life.  When it hit me that Fonzie was a normal dude it was like when Martin Luther made his visit to Rome.  My faith in the Church of Hollywood was shattered.  No longer would I kneel at its altar.

 

Likewise, I know myself well enough to know that heaven is not shining a beam of light on me.  I’m not worth worshipping.  If you’re reading this then I probably know you, and you’re not worth worshipping either (no offence).  The thing is we take ourselves too serious and we treat ourselves like we are God.  That’s something that every culture struggles with.  Misplaced faith is the struggle of mankind.  The only thing worth worshipping is God.  We aren’t Him.  Henry Winkler isn’t Him.  Don’t spend your life waiting for a picture of Fonzie.

By the way, Henry Winkler ran into my brother and me inside the Chatterbox and said, “Hey guys, have a nice meal.”  “You too!” We responded in unison.  We giggled like schoolgirls and I still feel special because of it.

New York, Universal Pre-K, and Politics as Usual

img_0279.jpg

If you listen to the news in or around New York City then you probably have heard a lot about the new mayor, Bill De Blasio.  A day hardly passes without hearing about what De Blasio did or said about something.  One of the stranger policies that he is pushing is universal Pre-K for the city.  De Blasio sees a problem with the city’s educational system and wants to fix it.  Here is a quote from his website: “Currently, only 23 percent of New York City high school students are prepared for college or a career. The percentage of black and Latino students prepared for college or a career is abysmal, at only 13 percent.”   To me those numbers are appalling.  After a student puts in 13 years worth of training they ought to be qualified to do something.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that another year in that system will fix anything.  In fact, I think that if the school system is left the way that it is you’ll see those numbers get worse.

Public education exists for the purpose of preparing the next generation of Americans to think efficiently and drive our nation onwards.  In many ways I think the system was a success.  In 1854 a British industrialist named Thernstrom visited Boston and had this to say, “ There is not a working boy of average ability in the New England States, at least, who has not an idea of some mechanical invention or improvement in manufactures, by which, in good time he hopes to better his position, or rise to fortune and social distinction.”[1]  What he is saying is that our educational system helped to promote critical thinking which promoted the industrial boom that the north was experiencing at the time.  What kept America moving forward was independent thought.

"Excelsior"- ever upwards.  It's our State's motto.  We are all for progress.

“Excelsior”- ever upwards. It’s our State’s motto. We are all for progress.  I think it’s achieved by independent thought.

That being said, I think that individualism ought to be one of, if not the, preeminent doctrine that our public schools teach.  I’m concerned that what De Blasio is advocating will not do that at all.  I think the best way to promote individualism is to give the students individual attention.  I am boldly suggesting that the state encourage private tutors; called parents.  When you are three or four years old you really don’t need to be institutionalized, that can wait until you’re like five.  I’m saying this as someone who never attended pre-school.  Even with the cards stacked against me, I somehow pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and made it through the rigors of kindergarten.  Lord knows it was difficult… but somehow I overcame.

Quite frankly, I think that this idea of universal Pre-K is a political ploy.  I don’t like politicians very much.  What they want and desperately need to do in order to keep their jobs is look like they are accomplishing more than we ever could have hoped for.  Every politician will want to say; “I did more to expand education in this city than anyone for 150 years!”  That’s why you’ll hear them saying, “We need more computers, more technology, more smart boards, in fact let’s just get the kids iPads!”  Politicians all want to seem progressive when it comes to education.  That’s why I think De Blasio is pushing universal day care… I mean pre-K.  He doesn’t want to do the dirty work of fixing the system but he wants to sound like he is.

Take a minute and appreciate how politically ingenious this move by De Blasio is.  He will be able to say, “I have added an entire grade level to NYC schools.”  And we won’t even know if it did anything to those awful stats he showed us until over a decade from now.  Meanwhile, he’ll be providing free day-care to his constituents.  The program is basically a bribe for voters.  Next election he will definitely make this a talking point.

I believe that there is another way to fix those stats De Blasio has on his website.  As emphasized earlier, I believe individual attention is the best way to educate someone.  But New York can’t afford this while it’s buying smartboards and paying for pre-k.  So, don’t buy smartboards and don’t pay for pre-k.  Instead, hire more teachers.  It might cost more than a smart board but it will do a better job of preparing students for the future. Large class sizes make learning and teaching much harder.  If you’ve ever been to a large lecture class then you are probably familiar with this.  While some teachers and professors are able to engage a class with the material in that setting it’s not always the case.  Also, if you’ve ever had the same instructor in a smaller setting, more often than not you’ll probably notice that you learned better.  I could go off on communication theory here but I won’t.

Instead, let me bring up homeschooling.  On average, homeschoolers score between the 65th and 89th percentile on standardized assessment exams.[2]  That’s compared to public schools, which average around the 50th percentile.  The best part of that stat is it doesn’t change based on ethnicity or socio-economic status.  The message is loud and clear, home schooling works.  New York should encourage homeschooling.  There could be many reasons for homeschoolers’ academic success but I suspect that the individual attention they receive is a big part of it.

I think we can agree this was positive propaganda.  Why not try to use it to fight the current epidemic of failing families?

I think we can agree that this was positive propaganda. Why not try to use it to fight the current epidemic of failing families?

If you want to affect those stats you need to do something radical to not only the educational system but also to the culture.  Aside from lowering class sizes, I think the State should try some propaganda.  Propaganda has a bad reputation for being a little manipulative.  But I think that almost all, if not all, media is manipulative (especially this blog post).  If the State wants to positively affect the culture than it should launch a series of ads focusing on the positive effects parents can have on their kids.  The ads should promote bland “family values.”  It doesn’t need to be religious or polarizing but it should try to foster a culture with a strong home life.  It should show loving families and paint an ideal.  Putting a positive role model in the public eye would not be a bad idea.

I hope that this entry challenges the way you look at education and the way you perceive politics.  Public education can work, but we shouldn’t be naïve enough to think that the politicians who control the schools are without ulterior motives.  Fixing this problem of underachievement in New York will not be easy and may cost some elections but I still believe that there are public servants out there.

At this point, if you are a New Yorker who has been interested enough to read this blog through than I encourage you to take the time to write to Governor Cuomo.  Governor Cuomo is considering implementing universal pre-k for the entire state but is letting De Blasio take the initiative in the city first.  I suspect that he is waiting to see how popular this program is with voters before he pushes it too hard.  If you agree with me than please tell him that you do not support the idea of universal pre-k and instead would like to see smaller class sizes in our schools.  If you disagree with me than please abstain from communicating with any elected officials or voters.  Politicians have to answer to the public, make yourself heard.

http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact/GovernorContactForm.php – Here is a link to the Governor’s office, it will only take 5 minutes of your time.

-David Myhren


[1] James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 29.

[2] Julia Lawrence, “Number of Homeschoolers Growing Nationwide.”  Educationnews.org, May 21, 2012. (Accessed February 9, 2014). http://www.educationnews.org/parenting/number-of-homeschoolers-growing-nationwide/.

Confessions of Robbers and Cowards- A Review

I’ve always admired when people make confessions.  Spitting out who they are and what they’ve done.  It takes a lot of guts.  Confessions usually leave me feeling convicted and reminded of how similar we all are.

Which leads me to the point of this post.  I’d like to recommend one of my favorite albums to you.  It is Cold War Kids’ 2006 release, Robbers and Cowards.  It’s one of those Indie rock albums that you either are going to love or hate the sound of.  The whole record sounds like it’s holding on by a thread.  It sounds like a drunk trying to walk the line; at any moment it could all fall apart. It’s got groovin’ bass lines, drums that sound like they might be drums but are probably old pipes, post-punk guitar, some bar-room piano boogie, and a blue eyed soul singer that sounds like he might be a long lost son of Jeff Buckley and Jack White (not sure how that’d happen…).  It sounds broken and I think that’s the point.

Cowards_and_Robbers_Cover

The album centers on a bunch of different people giving their confessions to you.  They all sound like they are either broken or in a broken situation.  The title should give you a hint of the types of guys that you find singing to you.  Some stand out songs to me were sung by an alcoholic father who wanted to quit but couldn’t, a robber who realizes that he is his own victim, dirty laundry singing about judgment day, an inmate on death row who killed a guy for abusing his sister, and a young man struggling with religious convictions, a girl, and a sex drive.  Some others on the album include an angry 12 year old girl caught in her parent’s divorce and debating which one she’ll live with, a man who stole money from the Church’s offering plate to go on a vacation to Europe, a man on his death bed in a hospital without a doctor, a doubter who is afraid to confront their problem, an addict, and a good old-fashioned break up song.

I can’t tell you how refreshing I find this record.  Each person is treated with human dignity.  The songs do a great job of making you relate and sympathize with all of these people.  I actually found myself relating to the alcoholic father the most (I don’t drink or have kids ).   The point of the album is two-fold.  You should either listen to it now or confuse yourself with my interpretation of the record.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahB97nfRX84&list=PLeouDm4fzOSb7t3EcM4z21mtIdceRIQ0b

- Here is a link to the album.  I recommend buying it or using spotify but youtube works too.

The first point comes in the second track, “Hang Me Up to Dry.”  It’s the song sung by dirty laundry.  I assume that each character’s laundry is included in this song.  All of the characters live their life having fun in summer clothes splashing around in muck and mire (in other words they were sinning) and then they die (fell asleep with stains caked deep in the knees).  Their sins had permeated the core of who they were, “deep in the knees”.   Now they have to face judgment day.  “Hang me up to dry/ You rung me out too many times.”  The dirty laundry is being exposed; their sins were being displayed.  Obviously the sinner will try to ring out the dirt but it’s impossible. All of these characters were helpless.  Nothing that they did could fix their situation, whether it was alcoholism or their parent’s divorce they couldn’t do jack squat.  But lo and behold!  After the laundry was hung up to dry it was found “pearly like the whites of your eyes.”  How did this happen? “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”- Isaiah 1:18.  Jesus Christ cleaned their dirty laundry.  He forgave them of their sins and fixed their situation.  The final two lines of the song are about all of the people being redeemed.  (All mixed up in the wash/ hot water bleeding our colors).  The characters are all united in their salvation.  They are unified in Christ.  This song won’t make any sense until you listen to the entire album, but I have little doubt that this song is about Jesus Christ redeeming each character by grace alone.

The reason that I think this is the final track on the album, “Sermons vs. The Gospel.”  It was a secret track on the CD!  If you own the CD you have to wait like five minutes after the last song to here it.  I think that they did this so that after you get done listening to all these cryptic and crazy stories of broken people you will scratch your head and say, “What the heck did all of this have to do with anything?” and then as you think disturbed thoughts in your head you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a “secret song” that explains why the album was actually cohesive.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m1s_xre_bA – “Sermons”

The song “Sermons” is about each character’s moment of repentance.   The singer realizes that everything they did was all for naught.  Everything was vanity.  Nothing could fix their situation.  “All the money in the mint couldn’t water a drought.”  And in a moment of desperation they cry out, “LORD HAVE MERCY ON ME!”  Finally when they had come to the end of themselves they found salvation in God’s grace.   The problem with man is his heart.  We are all as wicked as any one of these people that was sung about on the record.  The only hope of fixing anyone on this record (or in reality) is God extending mercy.  “Lord have mercy on me, say it even if you’re robbing from the poor, Lord have mercy on me, I believe the words will change the heart.”  The way that God extends grace is first through recognizing our own depravity.  Realizing that we are helpless.  We cannot fix ourselves.  Once we realize this, the only reasonable thing to do is quit trying and cry out to God for mercy.  Salvation is depending on God to save you from yourself and your dirty laundry.  This record was about each character’s repentance and their confession.

There were plenty of terrible people on this record, but grace was extended to each of them.  On judgment day they were all declared innocent of their sins because of the faith they had in Christ and His sacrificial work on the cross.  This record ends with a warning; judgment day is “getting closer everyday.”  We are all robbers and cowards save by the blood of Christ.  The only way to fix yourself or your situation is to find mercy from the Lord.  If you don’t then when you hang up your clothes to dry they will still be caked with mud.  It is a call to repentance.  Without a doubt, this is my favorite piece of art.

Confessions of a Party Animal

This is irrelevant, it's meant to grab your attention.

This is irrelevant, it’s meant to grab your attention.

Something I’ve daydreamed about a lot lately is living in the woods, or somewhere isolated.  Someplace where I could become totally detached.  To me, that would be living the dream.  During the day I’d probably go interact with people at work and stuff but afterwards I’d have a lot of time to enjoy being alone.

It’s not that I don’t like people but they make me uncomfortable.  I can deal with small numbers pretty well but large groups are torture for me.  Probably my least favorite occasions are parties.  I hate them.  There is just too much going on for me to deal with.  I think the point of hanging out with people is to share something with them; whether it is an experience, time, thoughts, feelings, or even food.  I feel incapable of sharing almost anything in large groups.  I simply do not have enough in me to share with a large group, especially when I can barely hear the person next to me and our conversation reverts to lip reading.  For me parties are a paradox.  I expect that since a ton of people will be there, more will be shared.  Life will be exponentially better.  But it just doesn’t work like that for me.

Maybe I’m just a little slow and can’t keep up with the fast pace of large groups, but in a room full of faces I find true interaction scarce.  When you have to compete to interact with someone it’s very hard to think that your interaction will be valued and hence we make small talk.  If you’re not confident that another person will value what you share with them you’ll probably just talk about the weather or some other surface level topic.  And if your whole life is a party you’ll either adapt to that situation or never experience yourself, or others.

If you ever want to share anything past a surface level interaction with someone else, you’d better get to know yourself past the surface.  That takes a lot of time and introspection.  You’ve got to spend time alone with your thoughts at night.  One of my favorite things to do is go for trail runs. It’s partly for the exercise but also for the solitude.  I don’t run with an iPod or anything and I used to think that it might be a good idea to get audio books for my runs.  I thought that it would be more productive if I had them going while I ran.  But I decided that I didn’t want them because life happens too quickly to not take time to be alone and reflect.  I think that it was a wise decision.  Being totally alone in the middle of nowhere gives you plenty of time to stop and think.

I love Virginia.

I love Virginia.

You’ve got to reflect on what is happening in your life.  The reason we study history is find out who people were and who we are.  History is extremely complex.  It’s a web of interconnected struggles.  It is factions warring against each other to create a compromise or a solution to a disagreement.  Each solution has ripple effects and the web is beyond what we can know.  It’s just too complex to ever comprehend all of even a section of history.  But it’s well worth our time to study it.  The hints and insights gained by meticulous study can help to inform us of pieces of the human identity.

We are microcosms of history.  Each individual is incredibly complex.  There is a war raging in the heart of every man.  Each experience you have is a moment of truth.  We are the culmination of these moments.  We are in the process of becoming ourselves, just like history is in the process of revealing itself.  It’s important to understand that you are a process.  You’re not done living, so you’re not done becoming yourself.  The older that you get the more yourself you become.  Once you’re done living than you can understand who you were.

In the mean time reflecting on history and your own personal history is a good diagnostic check.  We can track the direction that we are heading and change course when needed.  Hopefully, introspection will show you how complex you are, which is pretty cool.  But what is even cooler is the appreciation that it will give you for others, and life itself.

Knowing that you can’t ever wrap your mind around who you are should give you a renewed respect for other people.   Instead of simplifying others to caricatures and stereotypes introspection should help you realize the complexity of each individual.  An immense amount variety has gone into each one of us.

Furthermore, spending time alone makes other people kind of a big deal.  The less there is of something the more valuable that thing becomes.  The less time you have with other people, the more valuable time with others becomes.  I’d imagine that prisoners appreciate other people a lot more after a stint in solitary confinement than beforehand.  It’s important to schedule moments of solitude in your day-to-day life.

The world has become more interconnected and it is spoiling us.  We have facebook, cell phones, and news reports of an overpopulated planet.  It’s almost impossible to escape other people.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve groaned about the thought of seeing certain people.  What a crummy attitude.  The abundance of options has made me picky, like a bratty kid that cries about eating broccoli.  Each one of us is irreplaceable. Just because there are plenty of people doesn’t mean that each person isn’t valuable.  I constantly have to remind myself of that when I leave my house.

Our culture has idolized being connected.  Everybody needs to be in touch with everybody at all times.  If you aren’t hanging out with people then you’re weird.  One time I was just sitting on a bench and a guy came over looking real concerned and asked me if I was ok.  Never better.  I think that he thought I was suicidal or something.  I understand that man is a social creature but I mean come on, is it really that weird to sit by yourself and be fine?

The church is catching onto this trend.  I’ve noticed that a lot of churches are renaming small groups community groups, or life groups.  Personally, I prefer calling them small groups but I totally understand why Churches are renaming them.  Our generation is ironically one of the most connected and loneliest feeling generations ever.  (The Barna group has a study out on how Americans have changed in the last decade: https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/624-how-the-last-decade-changed-american-life#.UtNGDii53fg ).  Our generation feels like we can never be connected enough.  The Church is just adapting to society’s problems.

What would do us some real good as people is taking a step back every once in a while.  Take time to be quiet and be alone.  And be cool with it.  Instead of being bored, be idle.  Enjoy taking a break from doing stuff and reflect on who you are and who you want to be.  Once you realize that being alone is good you’ll begin to realize why being with others is good.  We are meant to share life together but I don’t think we’re meant to be clingy.  If the world will practice solitude I’ll practice being social a little more.  I think that’s a fair compromise.

Counting Cheerios

Who decides how many grams of calcium my body requires?  I like to think that somewhere there is a team of scientists that are keeping humans in cages and feeding them different multivitamins.  Of course they would be forced to run on giant hamster wheels.  Each day the people would be given different dietary supplements and the scientists would take notes on how efficiently the test subjects used their energy.  The experiment would last at least a lifetime.  After the long and arduous experiment, the team of scientists would compile a bunch of complicated graphs and data to decide what the average amount of calcium, vitamin-A, and substance-X people should or should not ingest.  They would then sell the study to Honey Nut Cheerios who would print the findings on the side of their box so that the public can see just how many bowls of cereal they should eat each morning to be healthy.

 

Numbers give the impression that there is an exact ideal.  In science there is, in life there isn’t.  Imagine how unhealthy a person would be if they counted their Cheerios.  The numbers they print on your cereal box are guidelines, not the required ingredients to a healthy life.  The problem is that numbers don’t represent ballpark estimates; they represent a very exact reality.  We have taken this idea of scientifically analyzed food and applied it to life as a whole.

We like to assign numbers to all sorts of things that have no business in being quantified.  Kids are being raised under the tyranny of numbers.  Children are segregated according to their age and shoved into a confining concept called a “grade.”  The kids are raised in this bizarre imposed social structure in which they only come into contact with people a year or two removed from themselves.  There isn’t anything natural about that.  Certainly it’s efficient for a large scale socialized educational system to segregate the children into grades, but it creates serious side effects in the human psyche.  I think that confining children to age groups is perpetuating their immaturity.  Fifteen year olds shouldn’t be taking their cues from eighteen year olds; they both ought to be coming into contact with more people generations removed from themselves.  By keeping the children caged with other children we’ve lowered our expectations of them.  We’ve given kids a very narrow view of the world.  It’s no wonder they think the world revolves around them, aside from their teachers all they see are other kids.

My brother locked in a cage.

My brother locked in a cage.

Experience is telling me that this system is flawed.  I’m at the strange point in my life when I’m beginning to realize how rare running into another 20 something is about to become and that concept is foreign to me.  Life outside school is a mixed bag, I’ll run into people of all shapes and sizes and ages.  At school I learned to deal with a lot of weird people but, I didn’t learn to deal with people that were much older or younger than me.  I learned that from my family and church.  School is a false expectation that we unintentionally communicate to our children.  Life shouldn’t be institutionalized like this.

The rigid structuring of our institutions is a symptom of a pervasive attitude that is permeating all of life.  We have begun analyzing ourselves as mere objects.  We box ourselves into rigid categories by identifying ourselves through our characteristics.  We treat each other like the numbers on the side of a cereal box.  Relegating people to numbers is inhumane and degrading.  It creates a way for us to remove ourselves from the human experience and put ourselves above our peers.  What I’m talking about here is the way that people judge one another.  “She’s like a 7 and ½ .”  She is a person, not a bowl of cereal.  Rating people is about as insane as counting out your Cheerios.   But if you hide behind the cloak of objectivity then I guess it’s ok to do that.

It makes me sad that we have objectified ourselves, but it’s not surprising.  The signs and wonders that the rationalists divined in their laboratories wooed us.  We have created an idol out of numbers and science. Both are great tools when used correctly, but like Thoreau put it, “Men have become the tools of their tools.”  We have enslaved ourselves to the quantifiable.  We have sacrificed our spirit upon the altar of the scientific method.  We have embraced materialism.  We absolutized what we can touch and it’s killing us.  We have chosen for ourselves a half-life, which is no life at all.

Mister-Rogers

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98wVFsIt-MQ

I hope you watched the video through to the end.  What Mr. Rogers says about the alphabet is an incredible life lesson.  “The alphabet is fine, but it’s what we do with it that matters most; making words like friend and love, that’s what really matters.”  Numbers and systems are fine, it’s what we do with them that matters most.  By using them as an end to themselves, we’ve used them to deny ourselves of our meaning.

This system of materialism has complicated a very simple truth that we each know in our hearts.  We are more than matter.  We have a spirit.  We have desires that numbers will never fill.  C.S. Lewis said it this way, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  The material world is great, but it’s not the only mode of existence.  In fact, it’s hardly a shadow of what we were intended for.

Obviously this blog post has bitten off more than it can chew.  The scope of this entry would have been more appropriate for a book.  Each paragraph really ought to have a whole chapter devoted to it specifically, but I doubt that you would have read my book. So instead of exploring my outlandish claims in detail I’ve left them sort of incomplete on purpose.  The intention of this was to peak your interest.  I hope that I’ve raised questions for you.  I’ve pointed out a problem and some symptoms of it.  I’ve hinted at a solution, I hope it gets your wheels turning.  I hope that it makes you think about how you have caged yourself or others.  Lastly, I hope that I have reminded you that you are special.  You are so much more than a number.  We can’t quantify our value; it’s innate and found within our spirit.  We are special not because we are smarter than monkeys, have opposable thumbs, won the state championship in high school, get noticed by the opposite sex, have a 6 figure salary, or anything else.  We are special because we are human beings, and God made us in His image.  To find your meaning by the numbers is to count your Cheerios.

Taking a Break

Welcome to my blog.

Welcome to my blog.

 

My family never had cable growing up but we did have the antenna.  The antenna was not really that great.  We didn’t get all of the cool channels.  I mainly watched PBS.  Since PBS was primarily educational programming, I was forced to do other things for fun.  In retrospect, I am glad we had the stupid antenna instead of cable.  I probably would have turned into a real bum with cable…

…Netflix.  Now we all have Netflix.  It’s really great and I love it.  I can watch as much TV as I want on my computer whenever I want.  That is the problem; I’m addicted.  I remember one winter where all I did was work, come home, shower, eat dinner with my family, and watch an episode or 12 of Lost.  Lost is an awesome show but every episode is a cliffhanger and when you have Netflix you pop them like candy. (btw- I have nothing but the upmost respect for John Locke.)  However, this experience showed me that I have a serious problem with wasting my time on entertainment.  It’s not that entertainment is wrong, I just have a tendency to only look for ways to entertain myself.

John-Locke-Lost

I’m taking a semester off from college before student teaching.  I’ll be working construction and hanging out at home.  I know that if I’m not careful I’ll end up coming home and watching TV all night.  That is something that I don’t want to do.  I want to use this time as an independent study.  I want to keep reading and writing.  Unfortunately, I don’t trust myself enough to just journal on my own; hence this blog.  I figured that it would keep me accountable to the entire universe.  I’ll probably try to post something every week or two but we will see how busy I am before I make any promises.

I’ll try to give a unique perspective in these posts.  I’ve been told that I’m “eclectic” and I’d agree with that.  I wouldn’t consider myself a contrarian but I would say that I’m my own person.  I went to a Southern Baptist College and attended an Orthodox Presbyterian Church while I was there.  I’m a conservative Evangelical but I prefer npr over Fox News (just preference, they’re both biased).  I’m not afraid of disagreeing with everyone else in the room (to a fault).

npr_logo_rgb

I’m not sure what I want to write about but I’ll try to keep it thought provoking.  I studied social science, education, and government for my degree so they will probably be common topics.  I’m also a Christian so I’ll probably post about my faith from time to time.  I love me some theology…  I’m also really into trail running.  I did several ultra-marathons at college and will probably try to keep running some while I’m home.  I might post about trails and routes and stuff if I find anything interesting.  I also love the blues.  I taught myself to play harmonica and music in general is great, so that might be a topic.  My brother is studying film so I might throw a few shameless plugs his way if he makes a video.  Anyway, the point of this is to keep my mind from turning to mush in front of the TV, so whether or not you chose to read it is fine.  In the end this will probably just become a way for me to write about my 2¢ on anything I feel is worth talking about.

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