Give something a try

I drove my wife and son 232 miles to see the eclipse in totality today.

Five hours to get there, and we didn’t see it. Too much cloud cover. It was thrilling to watch the earth darken around us (the eclipse plus cloud cover means it got very dark and rather cool), but it was disappointing to come so far and miss so much of the event.

But I don’t regret going. I knew before we left this morning that we had about a 50/50 chance of missing it. I also knew it was going to be a long day with lots of driving (I hate driving), whether we saw it or not. And that’s super-tough on a one-year old.

I don’t regret going because I realized afterwards that this wasn’t about seeing the eclipse. It was about doing something exciting. And whether we made it exciting was really up to us, and not the clouds. Here we are, thoroughly excited, waiting for the eclipse in the median at a grungy truck stop in St. George, SC.I learned something today, too. I’m reminded of what it means to actually try. To aim for a target, know the odds, and release the arrow with all the gumption and skill as you possess (be it great or small). To go forward confidently, knowing that many who try will fail, and knowing exactly how bad that failure will feel.

Our try “failed,” but in an unexpectedly refreshing sort of way. We know we failed. There was no hiding that fact from ourselves, each other, or the hundreds of people sitting around us, staring up at the overcast sky.

I don’t try things enough. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Everywhere we turn, we’re encouraged to avoid risks, or find the easy way out, or just revert back to what we know so we don’t end up somewhere we really don’t want to be. What can be worse than being stuck somewhere you don’t want to be when so much awaits you back at home, where you’re comfortable? That’s a prevailing attitude these days.

But that attitude is unfortunate. When we don’t try, we don’t learn, we don’t grow. Not trying means not letting the world around us shape our thinking or open doors—doors that often lead to transformative and powerful experiences.

Only a few times in my life have I truly tried something big—gave it my all for a long time, knowing there are very specific odds (often against me) that I can’t avoid. I honestly don’t remember ever winning these sorts of tries in the past. I bet what happened is I failed too many times and just gave up. Chose to quit trying somewhere along the line.

I don’t want that for my son. I want him to try. To work as hard as he can, even when he knows the set-in-stone odds of failure. And I want him to see that his dad tries, too. Because in the end, becoming a better person isn’t just about the goals you set and achieve, but the victories you discover along the road—experiences (like ours today) that draw you closer to each other and to God, and that make you a stronger person.

Fun people try. Exciting people try. Strong people try. Don’t be afraid to try, and to fail.

Trying is a victory in itself.

The internet is wreaking havoc on our perception of reality

From an anonymous redditor, on how the internet magnifies the intensity and frequency of terrorism around the world.

The internet is wreaking havoc on our perception of reality.

Read about what was going on in the 70’s when you had Arab nationalist groups and radical Communist groups and groups like the IRA and UVF. Shit was spiraling out of hand back then. Airplanes were getting hijacked all over. It was absolutely nuts. Watch a movie like Munich or Carlos The Jackel to see how crazy things were. To top everything off, you had the Cold War going on so every country’s intelligence agency was using radical terrorist groups to play off of each other left and right.

These days things seem to have mellowed out. But if you spend enough time on the internet, you’d think at any second you’re going to get clubbed by a neo-Nazi or run over by ISIS or Donald Trump is living under your bed waiting to steal your soul. There’s a reason for that: clicks make money and sensationalism gets you clicks.

 

On #charlottesville at church

Brian K. Miller on #charlottesville at church:

Second, I generally think it’s unhealthy – and perhaps even a bit narcissistic – to demand that an act be universally acknowledged. Things can be universally wrong (murder, racism, etc.) but we can only deal them within our own sphere of influence. When we demand universal action to local issues of injustice terrible things can follow – like when police officers in Dallas were blamed and killed for the shooting of a man in Minnesota. But even if the terrible side-effects can be negated, there are often no discernible positive effects either.

For instance, if someone close to me were killed in a traffic accident, I can’t imagine it would console me to know that people I have never met posted hashtags about the death on Facebook and gathered to talk about it amongst themselves. In fact, I would find it a little morbid. I can’t imagine the narcissism required to desire such attention. What would console me would be the presence and help of friends and family – those who are in a position and place to actually help. There is of course a converse side to this. If my loved one were killed by a drunk-driver in a regime that didn’t penalize drunk-driving then I would definitely find some comfort in a mass political movement recognizing the wrongness of the regime and working to stop drunk-driving. If your church has no problem with racism – and is perhaps even a well integrated community that is a shining example of how to overcome racism – then changing the sermon to preach against racism strikes me as the former example above of people gathering to discuss a death that they have no connection to.

The more appropriate course of action would be to gather as a community outside of church and do things to actually counter racism in your own community, write letters to those affected in Charlottesville, or get on a bus and join counter-protesters. All these things of course require real action because they are focused on the local and specific instance of evil. If evil is an abstraction then it demands nothing of us. We can fight it with abstraction. But if it manifests as some specific thing – incarnate in the world, like anti-christ, if you will – then it can be opposed with specific action.

#Charlottesville? We love it.

We just love when stuff like Charlottesville happens. We eat it up. We scroll down day after day waiting for stuff like this to happen. Drooling over events – horrific, but infrequent – that validate the narrative we want so, so bad to be true.

The saddest part about this, though, isn’t how much we love and reward those who break things and beat people up. It’s that our narratives would often have us wishing more of this stuff would happen. We refuse to believe these incidents are isolated (they are) because otherwise it’s just not as fun, just not as exciting. We insist that, yes, this does mean “we” have a serious problem. It does mean there are people out there who are plotting evil and want us dead. It does mean we need to freak out.

No, we don’t post to Facebook about the beautiful day we had – the sermon at church, the new word our child learned, the unfamiliar bird that landed on our window sill. But we absolutely will post about just how evil these protestors are, and just how evil are those who don’t denounce them, and just how worried we ought to be about all this stuff.

Mostly we do it because we’re bored. But also we do it because we want to be right. Because we aren’t very invested in the day-to-day realities around us, and so seek some kind of “purpose” in the news, even when we can’t think of a single person we know who’d ever participate in anything like what happened at Charlottesville.

Inevitably someone will find something incorrect with what I’ve said here. Something they disagree with. No, they’ll say, I just don’t understand. No, they’ll say, there are people who are truly suffering from inequality.

But fact is, I do understand. I’ve seen much worse than what happened at Charlottesville. Frankly, you have too, if only you will look as long and as hard at the faces of your friends and neighbors as you do the CNN newsfeed.

And my good friend understands. He lived for three years with people in Malawi who don’t have water to drink. There, mothers see their children die as often as we see our power go out.

No one marches for them. No one’s outraged about that. But Charlottesville? We love it. #charlottesville

I’m no better than anyone else. I hardly ever think about those kids in Malawi, sick and on their way to dying soon. But this isn’t about me. It’s something much bigger than me, and I hope you can see that.

Try to see the good in people. Don’t reward evildoers. And definitely don’t stir up anxiety and fear on purpose.

Some people have a hard enough time getting through the day, yet alone hearing about how they really do need to worry about racists coming to kill them, too.

I’m not “white,” but I don’t care. Never have. I don’t fear anyone at Charlottesville. Would gladly have been there this weekend, to tell people to go home and shut up.

But if there’s anything here I do fear, it’s the slow decay of our ability to look other people in the eyes and love them. To knock on our neighbor’s door to say hello. To find some purpose, any purpose, outside of events like this – little anecdotes that “validate” the previous little narratives that give us just enough purpose to feel ok about ourselves (even if not most of the time) and to not have to check up on the old lady next door every so often (because, I mean, we’re busy raising awareness online about terrible stuff, right?).

Get a life. I mean that almost literally. Go do something else. Don’t bring Charlottesville to your friends and neighbors, most of whom have other, more pressing stuff to worry about. Don’t be complicit in forcing these sentiments onto everyone you know. It doesn’t help. It serves no higher purpose.

We’re just bored. We need to find other ways to use our free time. We need to take what’s going on in our own families, our own minds, our own bodies, as seriously as we take what that guy on TV keeps saying.

“What can YOU do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” -Mother Theresa

Hart on Christ’s Rabble

The below from David Bentley Hart, published last September in Commonweal.

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have keenly desired to believe that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are, rather than—as is actually the case—the kind of people we are not, and really would not want to be. The first, perhaps most crucial thing to understand about the earliest generations of Christians is that they were a company of extremists, radical in their rejection of the values and priorities of society not only at its most degenerate, but often at its most reasonable and decent. They were rabble. They lightly cast off all their prior loyalties and attachments: religion, empire, nation, tribe, even family. In fact, far from teaching “family values,” Christ was remarkably dismissive of the family. And decent civic order, like social respectability, was apparently of no importance to him. Not only did he not promise his followers worldly success (even success in making things better for others); he told them to hope for a Kingdom not of this world, and promised them that in this world they would win only rejection, persecution, tribulation, and failure. Yet he instructed them also to take no thought for the morrow.

This was the pattern of life the early Christians believed had been given them by Christ. As I say, I doubt we would think highly of their kind if we met them today. Fortunately for us, those who have tried to be like them have always been few. Clement of Alexandria may have been making an honest attempt to accommodate the gospel to the realities of a Christian empire, but it was those other Egyptians, the Desert Fathers, who took the Gospel at its word. But how many of us can live like that? Who can imitate that obstinacy and perversity? To live as the New Testament requires, we should have to become strangers and sojourners on the earth, to have here no enduring city, to belong to a Kingdom truly not of this world.

Thoughts on Ehrman and Biblical inerrancy

I’m nearly done reading Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.

In a nutshell, the book is a brief on alleged problems with the New Testament—how transcription errors, going back even to the first and second centuries, may have altered the original authors’ meaning.

If these errors exist, this is especially problematic for Christians today, as transcription errors compound over time. For example, if a second-century scribe of the Gospel of Mark made a small error when copying the original text, then further errors made on the same inaccurate copies theoretically may drive the text’s meaning further and further from the original meaning. Then when the text is translated from the original Greek into Latin, then into the language we speak today, the errors become fatal to our understanding of what the author intended to say.

Now, many copies of second- and -third century New Testament transcriptions exist, such that scholars are able to compare across versions to identify, and even correct, copyist errors. Trying to find the text’s original meaning is anything but a hopeless task. And much of what we read in study Bible footnotes today is a result of such research, helping to clarify the meaning of the text based on new developments in textual criticism of the Bible (some of which support Christians’ historical and accepted interpretations).

But Ehrman uses several examples to argue that errors do exist in the Bible, and that some of these errors alter the text’s meaning in arguably significant ways. Some of these errors may even have implications for how we interpret the Bible’s teachings about larger, central doctrines (the origin of Christ’s divinity, for example).

Whether Ehrman is right or wrong about these specific, his larger point about the possibility of copyist error is worth considering. It doesn’t have to steal from your belief in the Bible’s inerrancy, and it definitely does not serve, standing on its own, as a strong argument against the Bible’s historicity or overall accuracy, even in regards to its claims about Jesus as the Son of God. Again, the accuracy of almost the entire book is undisputed, and Erhman’s examples (conceivably the best ones he knows) are few and far between, and do not necessarily or directly alter the authors’ obvious and oft-repeated points about central Christian doctrines.

That said, here are my own thoughts and questions on the topic—some of which I’ve alluded to above. Some oppose Ehrman’s general argument (“anti-skeptic” below), and others support (“pro-skeptic”).

Anti-skeptic

  • Given the sheer word count of the New Testament, Ehrman’s handful of examples still leave almost the entire book untouched by error—at least given what we know from the set of ancient manuscripts we have today.
  • Was the possibility of copyist error not well-known to ancient Christians? Did they have no idea that their version of a text might be slightly altered? The third- and fourth-century Church Fathers discussed this heavily—wouldn’t such concerns have existed even in the first and second centuries, when extant copies were only one or two generations from the original? Would this influence the copies that Christians chose to keep, and would they not consider correcting errors they uncovered? Ehrman does note that early Christians were likely to come from lower, illiterate classes of people, but he also argues that it was likely wealthier, educated Christians who oversaw the texts’ transcriptions. Even if the first copyists weren’t “professionals,” how was error understood by educated people? Did they expect it from copies of other texts?

Pro-skeptic

  • Words do not speak for themselves. Our understanding of language—even our attempt to understand language in its original historical context—is shaped by our cultural and intellectual setting. Case in point: The impossibility of perfect translation across languages, and the inevitable shortcoming of our attempts to even convey these differences. This is an argument against the notion of an infallible text, in general, as a sensible and/or useful concept. What does it matter if a text is infallible if we can never be sure of the author’s true meaning?
  • Why “the Word of God”? From where does this idea come? Why inerrant? Why infallible? I’m sure there’s a specific answer to this—the origins of the notion (doctrine?) of Biblical inerrancy—but I don’t know it. My first guess, since I see no claim to inerrancy in the text itself, is that the concept arises out of necessity—that without it, we have nothing. Being 2,000 years removed from the New Testament’s writing, we have no way to argue against those who level new claims about Christ and his teaching. If we have have not Scripture, have we nothing? In general, the concept of inerrancy confuses me.

Random

  • If God’s hand was over the writing of the New Testament, why not over the translation(s) thereof? I make no allusion to what I actually believe with this statement. I’m simply raising the question both to those who claim the Bible is God’s Word and those who claim it is not.
  • When Constantine cemented the role of Christianity into Roman political life, beginning in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan, did that not create a huge incentive on the part of state leaders to perfectly define Christian doctrines and eliminate ambiguity about the text? Did not the Roman Church-State want to put down serious inquiries about the veracity of Scripture or the doctrines even the emperor himself believed? Did not transcribing the text then become an act with potentially severe political consequences, thereby encouraging nefarious copyists to alter or distort (or clarify, for that matter) the text where it helped the cause of one powerful force or another? I’m not a historian, and maybe someone will correct me on this point.

The power of humiliation (political correctness)

In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

– Theodore Dalrymple

Collisions of this trivial sort

But the poetry of that kiss, the wonder of it, the magic that there was in life for hours after it–who can describe that? It is so easy for an Englishman to sneer at these chance collisions of human beings. To the insular cynic and the insular moralist they offer an equal opportunity. It is so easy to talk of ‘passing emotion,’ and how to forget how vivid the emotion was ere it passed. Our impulse to sneer, to forget, is at root a good one. We recognize that emotion is not enough, and that men and women are personalities capable of sustained relations, not mere opportunities for an electrical discharge. Yet we rate the impulse too highly. We do not admit that by collisions of this trivial sort the doors of heaven may be shaken open.”

-E.M. ForsterHowards End

The future of social media is…

The future of social media is anti-social media. That is, self-hosted content that only you own and that only you can take down.

I had this thought while sitting in on a marketing panel at WordCamp Jacksonville last month. We discussed using social media to market digital services, and it brought to mind a client of mine who has one of the largest Facebook pages in the world, but can claim only the login credentials for this page as an asset. The page itself is owned by Facebook, who reserves the right to take it down at any time—a fact which drastically diminishes the value of the page to potential buyers.

On Facebook, Twitter and Medium, you do not own your content. There is legally nothing stopping these companies from removing your profile, censoring your published materials, or acting in such a way as to skew and cloud your words.

Further, why do we need these companies? Except for ISPs, you don’t need any company to post content online. And posting your content on corporate-owned platforms, like Facebook, only means it’s less your own and more theirs. WordPress is a great alternative—open-source, shared code that enables you to easily publish online, but that does not permanently tie you into any network.

I’m convinced the future of social media is open-source, self-hosted. This is the next step in the decentralization of media. There is no reason why networking between proprietary domains can’t happen without massive companies like Facebook.

Like it or not, Trump is a strategic mastermind

I once explained my rationale (alongside my accurate election predictions) for believing that Donald Trump is not an idiot, but a strategic mastermind. He plays the fool just enough to incite scandal and dominate the news cycle, yet he maintains enough semblance of integrity in the eyes of his supporters to convince them—a good one-fourth of voters—that he’s 100% serious about “draining the swamp.”

Finally others are picking up on this. In today’s RCP, Bill Murray explains how the media is being played by Trump—especially his tweets:

As Michael Barone, the longtime co-editor of The Almanac of American Politics and senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, points out, “Early on, he [Trump] realized that by sending out a tweet early in the morning, that was very provocative, very in violation of political correctness, he could dominate an entire news cycle.” What’s more, Trump knew he could feed the media’s “addiction” to anything remotely resembling “breaking news,” all to his benefit.

This failure of U.S. broadcast media to use proper news judgment in covering Trump is among the gravest professional sins the industry has committed in recent memory because it fails to recognize the manipulation involved. George Lakoff, a professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, asserts that Trump’s tactics are “all strategic” in nature, “not crazy,” as many observers believe.

Lakoff has written several books on political speech and is an expert on the concept of idea framing, which has become an influential technique in the art of political persuasion. He asserts that Trump’s tweets embody one of four strategic communication tactics: preemptive framing, diversion, deflection and trial-ballooning.

I tell everyone who tells me Trump is an unhinged idiot to look beyond the commentary, look beyond the narrative. Look at the facts and the actions. Trump orchestrated a campaign the defied all odds. This takes genius. He successfully navigated multiple PR nightmares that would have meant the career end for any other politician I can imagine. This takes genius.

If you start to see Trump through this lens, you’ll be better at critiquing his policies, which fly under the radar—he’s reforming government massively while the media can’t stop talking about Russia and his “crazy” tweets. This is what we ought to be concerned about. Who cares if he’s an idiot. Who cares what he might possibly do to us if he keeps acting this way. What is he doing to us here and now?

Whether you believe his policies are helping or hurting, there’s no excuse for ignoring them in favor of the juicier, yet slowly crumbling, Russian-collusion narrative. Then it’s you who’s being played.