31 August 2008

Don't enjoy yourself -- Wisdom Sunday

It is said that only a few find the narrow way that leads to life and we must strive to enter by the narrow door. For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able (Luke 13:24). The explaination is to be found precisely in our unwillingness to persecute ourselves. We overcome after a fashion, perhaps, our serious and dangerous vices, but there it stops. The small desires we freely let grow as they will. We neither embezzle nor steal, but delight in gossiping; we do not "drink," but consume immoderate quantities of tea and coffee instead. The heart remains quite full of appetites: the roots are not pulled out and we wander around in the tanglewoods that have sprung up in the soil of our self-pity. Make an onslaught on your self-pity, for it is the root of all ill that befalls you. If you were not full of self-pity you would soon observe that we ourselves are to blame for all this evil, because we refuse to understand that it is in reality a good thing. Sympathy for yourself obscures your sight. You are compassionate only for yourself and as a result your horizon closes in. Your love is bound up with yourself. Set it free and evil departs from you. Suppress you ruinous weakness and your craving for comfort: attack them from every side! Crush your desire for enjoyment: do not give it air to breathe. Be strict with yourself; do not grant your carnal ego the bribes it is impatiently demanding. For everything gains strength from repetition, but dies if it is not given nourishment. But take care not to bar the front entrance to evil and at the same time leave the back door ajar, through which it can cleaverly slip in another form. How do you benefit if, for example, you begin to sleep on a hard mattress but instead indulge in warm baths? But if you try to give up smoking but give free reign to your urge to prattle? O if you deny your urge to prattle, but read exciting novels? Or if you stop reading novels but let loose your imagination and quiver in sweet melancholy? All these are only different forms of the same thing: your insatiable craving to satisfy your own need for enjoyment. You must set about rooting out the very desire to have things pleasant, to get on well, to be contented. You must learn to like sadness, poverty, pain, hardship. You must learn to follow privately the Lord's bidding: not to speak empty words, not to adorn yourself, always to obey authority, not to look at a woman with desire, not to be angry and much else. For all these biddings are given us not in order for us to act as if they did not exist, but for us to follow: otherwise the Lord of mercy would not have burdened us with them. If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, He said (Matthew 16:24), thereby leaving it to each person's own will --- if any man will --- and to each person's endeavour: let him deny himself. -- from The Way of the Ascetic by Tito Colliander

Seems a bitter pill, doesn't it? No enjoyment whatsoever? But think about our enjoyments. On occasion, when we are deprived of our enjoyments we act as if we have been denied a civil right. When we see that happen we ought to know that our enjoyments have become addictions of a sort.

If we would enjoy ourselves, and simply be thankful on those occasions when we can, but also thankful when we can't if we will be content with food, clothing and shelter then enjoyments will be simple pleasures, not addictions.

29 August 2008

That pretty much settles the experience issue, I think

So, after making Senator Obama's experience (rather, the lack thereof) an issue, Senator McCain selects Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

I suppose one could say that being chief executive of a state is more relevant experience than years as community organizer, state senator, and less than two hundred days as U.S. senator.

This sort of argument is difficult to make, since the Constitution, which sets forth qualifications for office, doesn't assert experience as one of them.

Nothing new under the sun

Watched Senator Obama’s speech last night. It was more of the envy-thy-neighbor and nothing-bad-should-ever-really-happen-to-you-but-if-it-does-there-must-always-be-a-federal-response sort of thing we always get.

There were several things I found interesting. For example, he’s going to end tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas. His audience seemed to be very happy to hear that. I keep wondering what he’s going to do to companies which decide to move operations where they can manufacture at less cost, pay the higher taxes and still make a profit.

Maybe he’ll send in the troops. Think of it. Companies who move jobs overseas constitute a clear and present danger to the economic security of the United States and must be dealt with the same way we handle any other such threat.

Okay. I’m exaggerating. It wouldn’t happen. But really, what will he do if companies move those jobs in order to make the same goods at a lower cost, to pay higher taxes and still make profit? He'll use it for his re-election campaign, of course.

He’s going to make sure that everyone who wants a college education gets one. Fine. But what is he going to do to increase the number of jobs which actually require a college education? I mean, really. You get your federal-promised college education. But the number of jobs which justify that education is smaller than the number of jobs which don’t. Now you have people with college degrees flipping hamburgers.

Look dammit. It is someone’s job to make sure that if you get a college degree there is a job out there somewhere which actually requires one. And if not, then (I love this part) there’s something wrong with the economy. And the party in power better do something.

Not to worry: next week we’ll get the Marxism-Lite version of all this.


I just read this at Gateway Pundit, including the comments.

Whenever I read or hear anything about the economy in relation to elections I am reminded of this passage from Solzhenitsyn’s “World Split Apart” speech:

It is imperative to reappraise the scale of the usual human values; its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President's performance should be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or to the availability of gasoline. Only by the voluntary nurturing in ourselves of freely accepted and serene self-restraint can mankind rise above the world stream of materialism.
Think about that italicized sentence. Now consider this: this speech was delivered in 1978. Jimmy Carter was President at the time.
28 August 2008

How serendipitous!

Just after posting the previous, I found this quote (here):

In the midst of prosperity the mind is elated, and in prosperity a man forgets himself; in hardship he is forced to reflect on himself, even though he be unwilling. In prosperity a man often destroys the good he has done; amidst difficulties he often repairs what he long since did in the way of wickedness. -- St. Alfred the Great, Founder of the English Nation
H/T: Orthodixie

At home in a land of milk and honey

Invader Christian -- Part 6

I seemed, in this previous posting, to be making a big deal of cell phones. Surely having and using technology isn’t something to make such a fuss over. No. And neither is food; we all need to eat. But Daniel once made a big deal over food and he turned out to be a big deal of a prophet. I wonder if, and how, the two facts may be related.

Whether they are related or not, Daniel didn’t give up food. He gave up only certain foods. And that is interesting because the man who wanted to feed Daniel this food very clearly thought of these foods as necessities, the deprivation of which would have dire consequences.

The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king's table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service…. But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way…. [B]ut the official told Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you." Daniel 1.5—10, emphasis mine.
Interesting, isn’t it? One man’s necessity is another man’s defilement; and the denial of that necessity is a capital offense!

Why did Daniel make such a fuss about food? It’s an important question when you consider what Daniel was willing to take in. He was willing to allow himself to be taught the language and literature of the Babylonians (see Daniel 1.4). Many of the Christians I have known have struck me as being the type who would be willing to eat the food (“It’s just food, for crying out loud. Lighten up. Don’t be so @#$%-ing legalistic!”) but not to learn the knowledge of the Babylonians.

Why would Daniel learn the knowledge but not eat the food? Apparently, he didn’t fear learning the Babylonian worldview would destroy his confidence in his own. He learned the knowledge of the Babylonians, but never worshipped their gods. But something about the food bothered him. Maybe he was concerned that the food wasn’t kosher. Perhaps the food had been offered to idols; so even if it was kosher the fact that it had been offered to idols made it objectionable.

But just maybe, it wasn’t only that the food was not kosher, but also that the food was from the king’s table. Maybe it wasn’t the eating and drinking of non-kosher food and wine that bothered Daniel. Maybe it also bothered Daniel that he would be eating and drinking like a Babylonian -- eating and drinking with the enemy even. Eating and drinking like a Babylonian may have transformed him into a Babylonian better than learning the Babylonian worldview. And perhaps the pursuit of a life filled with delicacies, or the pursuit thereof, characterized life as a Babylonian, or, at least, a “normal” Babylonian. I’m reminded of something John Chrysostom said: “A body immersed in delights is a body that breeds lust of every kind”(“Homily on the Epistle to the Hebrews”).

Whatever Daniel’s precise problem with the food, it is interesting to note that he rejected as defiling what everyone else in the Babylonian Empire would likely have given his eyeteeth for. He rejected food from the king’s table. Who does that? Would you?

I wonder if Daniel could have eaten like a Babylonian and not had his heart turned from his people, and his God. I think implied in the narrative is Daniel’s concern with the effects upon the soul of a life filled with the accoutrements of affluence. Such a life, he may have feared, could turn his heart from God.

Now, where could he have gotten such a crazy idea? Well, from Moses:

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – Deuteronomy 8.7-14, emphases mine.
There is something about a life of relative ease, something about a high standard of living which, according to Moses, is dangerous to one’s spiritual life. The danger is that a high standard of living can result in one’s forgetting his God. And Daniel knew Moses. He also knew the prophets. So he knew the captivity was a result of Israel’s forgetting her God. He also knew that it was Israel’s relative “good life” which had caused that forgetfulness. Yes, a high standard of living is not bad in and of itself, but it can be the cause of something which is bad in and of itself; it can be the cause of one’s forgetting God.

So, my preoccupation is not with the cell phone as such, but with one of the accoutrements of the relatively high standard of living we enjoy, even the poor among us. I could have used the television, or the personal computer, or even the internet. Any mark of our relatively high standard of living will do. Remember what Chrysostom said: “A body immersed in delights is a body that breeds lust of every kind.” Some of our delights run on electricity.

But what has all this to do with the failure of the Christian Right to have any lasting effect on U.S. culture? A “body immersed in delights” must surely be an undisciplined body. It cannot be otherwise. We ought to wonder if undisciplined bodies can transform a culture. The hallmark, I think, of the undisciplined is the failure to distinguish what one needs from what one wants, to treat needs and desires equally. Those who wish to transform a self-indulgent (undisciplined) culture, but are self-indulgent themselves, should abandon all hope. It takes energy – spiritual energy – to transform a culture; the undisciplined have no energy.

Think I exaggerate a bit? Ask yourself this: Why is Africa, poverty- and pestilence-stricken as it is, having “less” for which to thank God, becoming more Christian, while the U.S., with much less poverty and pestilence, and having “more” for which to thank God, becomes less Christian?

Affluence. It can do a spirit harm.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
25 August 2008

The sad fact of the matter is that, like Georgia, NATO has also been roundly defeated

Charles Krauthammer:

Read the first five paragraphs of the NATO statement on the Russian invasion of Georgia and you will find not a hint of who invaded whom. The statement is almost comically evenhanded. "We deplore all loss of life," it declared, as if deploring a bus accident. And, it "expressed its grave concern over the situation in Georgia." Situation, mind you.
It's not until paragraph six that NATO, a 26-nation alliance with 900 million people and nearly half of world GDP, unsheathes its mighty sword, boldly declaring "Russian military action" — not aggression, not invasion, not even incursion, but "action" — to be "inconsistent with its peacekeeping role."
Having launched a fearsome tautology Moscow's way, what further action does the Greatest Alliance of All Time take? Cancels the next NATO-Russia Council meeting.
That's it. No dissolution of the G-8 (group of industrial democracies). No blocking of Russian entry to the World Trade Organization. No suspension of participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (15 miles from the Georgian border). No statement of support for the Saakashvili government.
Remember: At issue is not military action, only measures — painless for the West — that would significantly affect Russia. In Soviet days, Russia didn't care because it was at the center of a self-enclosed autarkic system that included 15 Soviet republics, all of Eastern Europe and a collection of overseas colonies. With these all gone, post-Soviet Russia is infinitely more dependent on the international system. It has political/economic pressure points. Yet with Georgia occupied, its infrastructure stripped and its capital under siege, NATO pushed not one of them.
Russia has buttons which could be pushed to advantage. NATO, formed – among others – for the purpose of “keeping the Russians out”, according to its first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay, doesn’t bother brushing the dust off the buttons, much less pressing the buttons. An aspiring NATO member (and U.S. ally) is invaded and the an-attack-on-one-is-an-attack-on-all alliance does nothing. Well, that makes a little bit of sense when you take into account France and Germany’s opposition to Georgian membership on the grounds (naturally!) that it might anger Russia. Good heavens, we certainly don't want that.

As I observed in the previous posting, the end game of war is the submission of your enemy to your will, by defeating him physically, by destroying his military forces or by defeating him morally, by destroying his will to fight. Usually, one has to do both. Occasionally one has really to do neither; for occasionally one’s enemy, regardless how well-armed, simply has no will to fight. That’s NATO a “26-nation alliance with 900 million people and nearly half of world GDP”: heavily armed, but no will to fight.

No will to fight, even non-militarily; submission to the enemy’s will; and all without a shot fired – looks like a defeat to me. A bloody, bloody defeat.

The Russians will leave Georgia when, and only when, they accomplish their objectives

Russian forces blocked access to the city’s naval and commercial ports… and towed the missile boat Dioskuria, seen as the flagship of the Georgian navy, out of sight of observers. A loud explosion was heard minutes later. (Entire article here.)
Actions like this have kept people wondering if and when Russia will leave Georgia. Speculation continues that this is an aggressive move to annex Georgia to Russia. It may be.

But this is war; and war is prosecuted for political objectives. War is prosecuted to make one’s adversary submit to one’s will, normally by destroying either his means of conducting war or by destroying his will to conduct war – if not both. Russia may very well have set for itself the limited objective of ensuring Georgia’s inability to conduct war, by destroying her military and her will to fight.

I doubt we’ll see Russia leave Georgia, if ever, before they satisfy themselves that Georgia will be conducting no further military engagements against her. More than likely, Russia's ultimate goal is to keep Georgia and others out of NATO.

While people still seek and clamor for a "political" resolution they should bear this in mind. The Russians know something that many would do well to consider: War is not something distinguished from politics, but something pursued for political ends; like diplomacy war is part of politics. It is, as von Clausewitz observed, a continuation of “political intercourse” by different means. War is about making the enemy submit to your will. The continuing violence in Iraq, for example, suggests that we have not yet destroyed terrorists means or will to conduct their operations. For you see, it has been their goal to us to submit to their will, not by destroying our means of conducting warfare against them, but rather by destroying our will to fight, mostly by tiring us out. And Democrats have ever been their closest ally.

You don’t stop a war by ceasing to shoot at those who are shooting at you; you lose a war by ceasing to shoot at those who are shooting at you. Remember: war, even when it is defensive, is conducted to make the enemy submit to your will, especially (in defense) by frustrating his intentions.

Unlike some us, the Russians seem to have no intention of going anywhere until they are satisfied that Georgia will be unable, unwilling (or both) to prosecute combat operations. They will not leave until Georgia submits to Russia's will.
23 August 2008

Know your enemy -- Wisdom Sunday

Hence that general is skilful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skilful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack. -- Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
I know, it seems a little more than out of place to quote a Chinese general, or any general for that matter, as the epigraph of a posting of this nature, but bear with me.

It is to be lamented that western Christians, especially Protestants, are not encouraged -- and much less taught how -- to engage in self-examination. Indeed, mention the subject and you'll be treated to a sermonette on the evils of legalism. After all, who but a legalist would want you to be preoccupied with the sin in your life.

Too bad. I've heard the Christian life described as a warrior's life, a life in which one (as a warrior) must be trained to pay attention to details that others overlook, details in one's own life. That's an important point because Christians in the U.S. are rather more preoccupied with national and social evils. This leaves them open to attack, from the real enemy.

Thomas a Kempis explains (here):

The beginning of all temptation lies in a wavering mind and little trust in God, for as a rudderless ship is driven hither and yon by waves, so a careless and irresolute man is tempted in many ways. Fire tempers iron and temptation steels the just. Often we do not know what we can stand, but temptation shows us what we are. Above all, we must be especially alert against the beginnings of temptation, for the enemy is more easily conquered if he is refused admittance to the mind and is met beyond the threshold when he knocks. Someone has said very aptly: “Resist the beginnings; remedies come too late, when by long delay the evil has gained strength.” First, a mere thought comes to mind, then strong imagination, followed by pleasure, evil delight, and consent. Thus, because he is not resisted in the beginning, Satan gains full entry. And the longer a man delays in resisting, so much the weaker does he become each day, while the strength of the enemy grows against him.
I think too many of us fall to temptations because we are so preoccupied with the world outside our hearts to pay much, if any attention, to the real battlefield -- the heart. And since we are busy putting up defense in other places (those social evils, abortion, defense of marriage, gay rights, and so forth), the enemy has it easy. And by the time we notice -- if we even notice -- it's too late. We put up no defense because we really don't know, as Sun Tzu says, what to defend. We put up no attack, or counter-attack, because we don't know what to attack.

We do not know the enemy. We do not know how he operates. But we should know. He operates in the heart, where that "mere thought" occurs; but we don't spend a whole lot of time there, so we don't notice. We aren't encouraged to engage in much self examination (navel gazing), so we may not ever notice that first fleeting thought. If we do, we may shrug it off as insignifant and think nothing of it, ever again.

Reminds me of another quote by Sun Tzu, perhaps his most famous:

Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.

17 August 2008

How to read an opponent -- Wisdom Sunday

If anything in these chapters should prove useful to the soul, it will be revealed to the reader by the grace of God, provided that he reads, not out of curiosity, but in the fear and love of God. If a man reads this or any other work not to gain spiritual benefit, but to track down matter with which to abuse the author, so that in his conceit he can show himself to be the more learned, nothing profitable will ever be revealed to him in anything. – Maximus the Confessor, Four Hundred Texts on Love.
“Tracking down matter” with which to “abuse the author” is the most popular way of reading anything an opponent might write. The opponent provides little more than an opportunity for one to demonstrate one’s superior grasp of facts, one’s greater skill with logical argumentation. At the out-set of the read, one knows one’s opponent is wrong, probably about everything, and it’s a simple matter of finding where he’s wrong and exposing him.

In truth, an opponent is an opportunity to practice charity and love of one’s enemy. Yes, error must be refuted, but Christian refutation begins not with immediately crafting rebuttals. Christian refutation begins by “putting on” and “wearing” the opponent’s view, briefly seeing the world, and possibly yourself, according to his report of it.

In truth, the Christian’s real enemy is not the human opponent, but falsehood itself, and, behind falsehood, the Father of Falsehood.
15 August 2008

Russia’s invasion of Georgia is no different than U.S. invasion of Iraq

Well that’s what some people say, anyway.

Gerard Baker, of the U.K. Times Online, explains the difference:
It ought not to be necessary to point out the differences between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Mr Saakashvili's Georgia, but for those blinded by moral relativism, here goes - Georgia did not invade its neighbours or use chemical weapons on their people. Georgia did not torture and murder hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Georgia did not defy international demands for a decade and ignore 18 UN Security Council resolutions to come clean about its weapons programmes. And unlike Iraq under Saddam, Georgia is led by a democratically elected president who has pushed this once dank backwater of the Soviet Union, birthplace of Stalin and Beria, towards liberal democracy and international engagement.

Sacramone a hottie

Well, it rhymes anyway.

Hottie? I don’t know about that, but…

According to Fox News.com, Alicia Sacramone is an internet “hottie”. This despite her "screwups”.

Hottie. I’ve never like that word applied to women. It connotes that which is prized for its ability to stimulate, specifically sexually. Think I’m exaggerating?

A commenter at one site, according to Fox, has this to say about her:

SHE'S 20, so she's not jailbait!

Jailbait refers to a girl with whom one can legally have sexual intercourse. Think about what this young lady is able to do, even taking into account her “screwups”. What is most worthy of note for this guy? Her value as the possible source of sexual satisfaction.

Don’t get me wrong. She is beautiful.

My wife thinks so too. We’re both very impressed with Sacramone. But what makes her most attractive is her grace under pressure, grace and poise which she maintained even after her “screwups” – what the British call (or used to call) keeping a stiff upper lip.

Kind of like this:

I grew up in a house in which females out-numbered males almost 2 to 1. I have too much respect for females to think of them – or to have much patience for those who do think of them – primarily in terms of their ability to sexually gratify, even if only as “eye candy”.

I’m perhaps also a bit sensitive here because I have a little girl of my own, who is just three years older than Sacramone. I also have four nieces.

We have an Olympian here, including Olympian in the sense of controlling of her emotions. And what grabs some peoples’ attention is that she isn’t “jailbait”.

Not jailbait.

Enjoy those pictures, pal. You'll get closer to her only in your dreams, and her nightmares.

12 August 2008

No (Russian) blood for oil?

Apparently the reconquista is all, or mostly over now -- maybe -- but they certainly got far.

Did you catch the part, about thirty seconds in, where we heard that very few Russians are questioning their country’s motives or tactics? One doesn’t quite know what to do with that. On one hand you might want to applaud their patriotism. On the other you want to know how free they feel to question their government’s motives or tactics, or if they are just mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed fecal matter.

Given the Russian population in South Ossetia (and Georgia's rather aggressive move to regain control of South Ossetia), I imagine it’s patriotism. If Russians were more like Americans thousands would be protesting and placing bumper stickers on cars (yes, already) which read, “Free Georgia”, “No blood for oil!” and things like that. There's got to be some oil involved somewhere, somehow. I just know it.

Russians don't take a dump...without a plan

So the Russian military has been ordered to halt operations.

You really have to admire how quickly the Russians were able to move. I was thinking they'd just go ahead an annex Georgia. The swiftness of the operation put me in mind of one of my favorite scenes in The Hunt for Red October:

No doubt, plans for such a retaliatory invasion have been on the table for years, South Ossetia being a contestable area and all. Dick Morris has an article at his website comparing this invasion to another one around seventy years ago:

On October 3, 1938, Adolf Hitler’s armies marched into Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia. Germany said it was responding to separatist demands from the large German population that lived there and that she was merely honoring their desire for reunion with Germany. Hitler’s tanks took over a vital part of an independent country that had largely rejected his overtures and allied itself with the West. Neither Britain nor France nor the United States did a thing to stop him.

On August 7, 2008, Vladimir Putin’s armies marched into South Ossetia, a part of Georgia. Russia said it was responding to separatist demands from the large Russian population that lived there and that she was merely honoring their desire for reunion with Russia. Putin’s tanks took over a vital part of an independent country that had largely rejected his overtures and allied itself with the West. Neither Britain nor France nor the United States did a thing to stop him.

Encouraged by his occupation of Sudetenland, Hitler continued his designs on Czechoslovakia itself and invaded the rest of the nation a few months later.

Will history continue to repeat itself?

For now, it doesn't seem like history will repeat itself. We'll see.

There was, in the Morris piece, another passage of some interest:

Russia has encouraged migration by ethnic Russians into its satellite empire ever since Stalin’s days and now is using the provinces with large Russian populations to foment discord in nations that lean to the West.
It seems to me there is another country in the world which encourages migration by its citizens across the border into a neighboring country, which has experience the fomenting of discord. The name of this country escapes me at present, but it's right on the tip of my tongue. I know I've read a lot about it, but I just can't remember it. Oh, well. It's probably not a big deal.
11 August 2008

The World in the Palm of My Hand

Invader Christian -- Part 5

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Could anyone possibly claim that the United States is a more moral nation now than it was in 1980? … Speaking strictly as … Christians, has it really gotten easier to live [a Christian] life in America over the last twenty-five years? Take a look at cable TV, the internet, the bestseller list and the clothes they sell to teenage girls at every department store in this country and try to tell me with a straight face that the answer to that question is, “Yes”. The fact is that after twenty-five years of hellfire-and-damnation political speeches and mobilization efforts, this country is in worse shape now than it was when it all started. (Clark Carlton, “Where the Religious Right Went Wrong”, here)

I have been discussing, beginning here, the undeniable failure of Christians to have any significant effect upon U. S. culture, and the reasons for this. The discussion has been in terms of Reinhold Niebuhr’s book, Christ and Culture. Most Christians, especially those of the ilk which has failed to produce their desired results, accept the idea of “Christ as Transformer of Culture”. My thesis, suggested by Clark Carlton and others, is that this failure is rooted in Christians’ acceptance and adoption of the same methods of “culture warfare” as their opponents. And that is limited to Christians who actually accept that there is a “war” on. The rest are on a relatively permanent R&R, interrupted by occasional periods of work and worship, if they can be bothered by it and if it’s exciting enough (you know, if the music is like what we normally listen to and if the sermons aren’t “boring”).

In previous postings on the topic I was preoccupied with the arts, notably music (and mostly because I’m a trained musician). I suggested that there is an approach to music that is not unlike non-Christian music, even though the content may differ – a little.

But it isn’t just in art that this acceptance of prevailing cultural norms occurs (some of which norms, bear in mind, supposedly need to be reformed). Many aspects of culture, because they are not obviously malignant, are snatched up unquestioningly, uncritically, and even eagerly by Christians. If it isn’t a sin, or at least obviously a sin, a Christian need not tax himself by appraising the spiritual significance (if any) of such things. As P. G. Wodehouse observed: Christians’ minds are best left unstirred.

To pick a seemingly benign example, a Christian needs his cell phone just as much as a non-Christian does. And I won’t deny that it is a need. But what goes unquestioned is whether it should have become a need in the first place. Perhaps it should not have become a need. Don’t worry about it, though: there is no passage in the Bible which emphatically states, “Thou shalt not own cell phones; neither shalt thou organize and live thy life such that cell phones become a necessity.” Go in peace.

On the other hand consider this possibility: so many of the things we need are needed not because they are essentially needful, but because they are accidentally needful. In other words, we need them because of the way we have organized our lives, whether rightly or wrongly. It is that (i.e., how we have organized our lives), not the possession of these needful things, which may be the problem. We don’t tend to reflect upon that possibility. I need this, therefore I must have it. And it is probably true: I do need it. But should I have come to need it? Do I need it because of the way I’ve organized my life? Should I have organized my life such that I created this need? If I need it, what, precisely, do I need it for? Do I really need it, or is it just part of living well in the U.S.A., being on the right side of the “digital divide”?

I suppose the list of questions could go on. But I won’t.

These are not the questions we ask ourselves. And we have some very harsh language for those (legalistic bastards!) who dare suggest that the problem is that we have created these needs by virtue of how we’ve (mis-)organized our lives. It is even worse for those who dare tell us exactly where we’ve gone wrong in organizing our lives.

The problem isn’t that we own cell phones. The problem may just be the acceptance of them as a now-normal part of life. The problem may be that they probably own us. Your average Christian without a cell phone in his pocket or purse, or stuck in his ear is in just as dire a circumstance as a one-armed paper hanger in a wind storm – or a castrated gelding attempting to reproduce. But he isn’t really in dire straits: he has simply organized his life in a certain way; and that’s all. And that organization-of-life requires a cell phone. Or, apparently, whatever happens to be the latest must-have gadget.

This is an important question for a Christian. A Christian – whatever his neighbors may do – must ask himself about the organization of his life. We organize for purposes, unless we are living accidental lives. For what purpose have we organized our lives? What’s our central focus? Have we organized our lives for the conquest of self or for the indulgence of self? For service or for play? More than likely we do not own cell phones because of their great utility in helping us bear the cross. (Maybe that’s not true in your case. Bless you; go with God.)

We want to be reachable, but not for service. We want to be reachable so that we can always be called upon (or to call upon others) to stop at the store for this and that on our way home from work (God forbid we should do without for one night), or so that we can call someone while we’re stuck in traffic (rather than use that gift of free time for prayer, meditation, reflection: we have so few things to pray about because, except for our traffic issues, or finances, or the health of loved ones, there are very few things to pray about) and God forbid we should be – in addition to stuck in traffic – stuck in silence. Not to worry, though: if we’re not on our cell phones, we have our car stereos. (After all, Christians need as much noise as anyone, as long as its Christian noise, of course.)

We especially want to be reachable because we want to make sure our friends and relations can always contact us. But not, again, so that we can be of service to them. Far from it. More than likely we have friends and relations who are planning what can best be described as play dates. (Also more than likely we ourselves have occasion to plan play dates.) We wouldn’t want to be left out for want of a cell phone. (“We tried to reach you, man, but you’re never home. Don’t you listen to your messages? You need a cell phone, dude.”) The world is a playground and when we’re not working we know that someone somewhere is playing; and we don’t want to miss out. (And if it isn’t play, then it’s likely work: Money never sleeps.)

Not that I think things will be better if only we didn’t have cell phones and the like. Indeed, I have a cell phone. The problem is not the possession or use of a cell phone. The problem is how it came to be a need. It may not necessarily have come about legitimately. The problem is not possession but use: they may not always be used legitimately. For example, some have found cell phones to be excellent means of spreading gossip faster than ever.

A diagnostic thought experiment: Saint Paul instructs us to be devoted to prayer (Romans 12.12) and to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5.17). How much time do you spend on the phone (cell or otherwise) or internet, or anything else? How much time do you spend in prayer?

I’m reminded of a time a man of my acquaintance explained why he didn’t own a television. He got the idea from his pastor when he was a kid and television first came out. He, this pastor, was in an appliance store and the salesman was trying to sell him a television set. “What’ll it do for me?” this pastor asked the salesman.

“It’ll put the world in your living room,” the salesman immediately replied.

“Well, then I don’t want it.”

The world in your living room? We can do better than that. I can access the internet with my cell phone. I have the world in the palm of my hand. And it keeps me busy, when I let it.

Part 6

Eventually, Europeans will hate Obama also

David Aaronovitch, of The Times Online, explains why, here:

In part I think that anti-Americanism is linked to a view of change as decline. The imagination is that dynamic capitalism, associated with the US, is destroying our authentic lives, with our own partly willing connivance. It is a continuing and - at the moment - constant narrative, uniting left and right conservatives, which will usually take in the 19th- century radical journalist William Cobbett (conveniently shorn of his anti-Semitism), and end with an expression of disgust over the Dome, the Olympics or Tesco. Just as bird flu is a disease from out of the East, runaway modernity is a scourge originating to the West.

So Barack Obama…will one day learn that there is no magical cure for the envy of others. What makes America the indispensable power (and even more indispensable in the era of the new China), is precisely what makes anti-Americanism inevitable.
10 August 2008

To live well – Wisdom Sunday

What… gives more trouble and affliction than uncontrolled desires of the heart? A good and devout man arranges in his mind the things he has to do, not according to the whims of evil inclination but according to the dictates of 6 right reason. Who is forced to struggle more than he who tries to master himself? This ought to be our purpose, then: to conquer self, to become stronger each day, to advance in virtue. Every perfection in this life has some imperfection mixed with it and no learning of ours is without some darkness. Humble knowledge of self is a surer path to God than the ardent pursuit of learning. Not that learning is to be considered evil, or knowledge, which is good in itself and so ordained by God; but a clean conscience and virtuous life ought always to be preferred. Many often err and accomplish little or nothing because they try to become learned rather than to live well. – Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Bk. 1, Ch. 2.

If you ask anyone these days what it is to live well I doubt they’d come up with: To “conquer self, to become stronger each day, to advance in virtue.” We have no desire to conquer self. We want to indulge self. To live well, is to indulge self.

Not that the contrary is any easier. As he tells us, the one who struggles the most is the one “who tries to master himself”. It always seems a losing battle And no matter how much ground you gain during a day of battling the self, you begin the next day at square one.
08 August 2008

Why I want to be President

Not that I could answer the question better than Barak Chrysostom, here:

I'm just spit-balling here, but if I were running for President and were asked the same question I think I would say something like this:

I want to be President because I believe I can do the job better than my opponent, who believes, apparently, that he is running for the office of Savior, not President. The job of the President, while difficult in many respects, is really quite simple. His job is not single-handedly (or with the help of his party) to save the country. The Constitution (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) specifies the job of the President: to see that the laws passed by Congress are faithfully executed, to exercise the office of commander in chief of the armed forces – not the economy, to make treaties (with the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senate); things of this nature. I want to be President because I think the American people need someone in the White House who actually believes in them. Someone who doesn’t think they are intellectually inept because they haven’t been convinced of the moral superiority of Marxism, and the intellectual credentials of multiculturalsim and globalism. Someone who believes that they are smart enough to handle a lot of the problems we have through the agency of the governments of the states they live in. The states, by the way, where these problems exist. I want to be President because I believe the American people need to have the experience of having a government seated in Washington, D.C., not Austin, or Denver, or wherever, leaving them the heck alone when it comes to a lot of the issues they face. I want to be President because I think the American people need a President they can believe in simply because he believes in them and trusts them to do the right thing wherever they live without looking to Washington for permission, or for a blessing. I know I can’t do the job of national savior, I think I can do that job. I want to be President because for all the faults of her past, I think there is a lot of good in this country that is worth protecting and defending; and I think she should be led by someone who loves her and has offered his life for her, not someone who can’t wait to “dis” the mean, old bitch. And finally, I’d like to be President because I think it would be just bitchin’ to be the leader of the youngest and still most successful and powerful republic in world history. Positively bitchin’. Hooah! ¡Y dale shine!
Obviously, I’m not the orator that Golden-mouth is, but there it is in a nutshell. Yes, a bit tongue in cheek; but I think in this case tongue in cheek beats, “I want to be President because (as I’ve said on many occasions) this country sucks and I am going to make it stop sucking.”

I’m James Frank Solís, and I approve this blog posting.


This country is not what it once was? I thought it was just within the past several months that Michelle Obama said that for the first time in her adult life she is proud of her country. At what point in the past was this country doing so well that Obama wouldn’t feel compelled to run for President? When this country was what it once was what, exactly, was it? And when was that? The eighties, the decade of greed? The seventies, the decade of American defeat? Perhaps it was the sixties, the decade of the Civil Rights revolution. That would have to be it. It couldn’t have been any decade before the sixties, the era of separate but equal. Or, perhaps, Senator Obama refers to the nineties, when there was a Democrat in the White House. That’s another possibility.

Michelle Obama is for the first time proud of her country, which, oddly enough, is not what it once was, thus requiring a Barak Obama presidency. Curiouser and curiouser.
06 August 2008

Conrad Hilton would be so proud

This is proof positive that anyone – and I do mean anyone – with a good script can sound intelligent.

You know what McCain should do? He should talk to Paris, make a deal with her. She does all his campaign commercials. Somehow, I think his message, coming out of her mouth, would gain a very wide audience. After all, he hasn’t got much else going for him except for the Democrat-lite platform. He also needs the people who wrote her script here. They succeeded in making her sound so smart she even had my attention.

And that is saying something.
05 August 2008

How journalists “report” the news

Yesterday, Laura Ingraham interviewed Zoriah Miller, a photographer who has been embedded with troops in Iraq. Her position was he selects photos based on his antipathy to the war in Iraq in order to change minds here at home about the war. He admitted to wanting to change the world. (Which journalist doesn’t?) But he also claims that all he’s up to is “educating” people about what’s happening in Iraq. I’m sure.

Well, like Laura always says, the left believe that non-leftists are stupid. I’m not: I was educated and trained by leftists. And I was more leftist when the process began. But I digress.

It still surprises me how many people deny the proposition that journalists can report with no intention of persuasion. Just telling us what is happening somewhere – or providing us with photographic images – is not biased. It’s objective. After all, they don’t create the images; they don’t craft the stories. They just photograph what’s there; they simply narrate events which have happened.

Below is a clip from the movie “Cool Runnings”. At 8 minutes into the clip John Candy’s character introduces would-be members of the Jamaican bob-sled team to the sport. In so doing he offers a narrative, accompanied by images. In so doing he also does not lie or present false images. See what you think of his report.

You have to admit the images he shows them are true. There’s nothing false in this report on the sport of bobsledding. The scenes are no doubt scenes from real sledding competitions. But it is not exactly unbiased, either. It is also not entirely true. This “report” provided images, and accompanying narrative, selected to persuade the audience, not merely to inform the audience.

And they wonder why we laugh when we hear them call Fox News – and only Fox News – biased.

About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
View my complete profile

Blog Archive