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Cats are a Scourge
Eugenics is Still the Law
"We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., in Buck v. Bell (1927)
Buck v. Bell is one of the cases that sets the precedents for forced medication too - like compulsory vaccine laws or giving you a sedative when they arrest you and claim you need restraint.
Heroes Shattered: Teddy Roosevelt was a Eugenicist
"[S]ociety has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally, while it encourages or connives at the cold selfishness or the twisted sentimentality as a result of which the men and women ought to marry, and if married have large families, remain celibates or have no children or only one or two. Some day we will realize that the prime duty - the inescapable duty - of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type."
Teddy Roosevelt, Letter to Charles Davenport, founder of the Eugenics Record Office
Sorry, there are very few true heroes. Our own Teddy Roosevelt could have been Hitler.
What are some principles to employ when trying to figure out the answer to a liturgical question? While I realize that many of you are in church traditions with an historical liturgy that moves logically and sensibly (Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist) I belong to a denomination where there is a lot of making it up as we go along. The principles I'll discuss should assist those in traditions like mine who have had an almost apophatic liturgical theology - in other words, a philosophy more about what we ought not to do in worship rather than what we should. What follows will be hastily written - I'm sitting here with wet hair waiting for my turn at the sink. But I hope this will be helpful if you haven't read much about worship.
Orientation - the first thing to remember is your anthropology. Humans lie dead in their sins until God makes them alive in Christ. Even alive humans need forgiveness all the time. And so every human that enters the door of the church on a given Sunday morning needs to renew Covenant with God via repentance. The Christian life is a life of repentance, and this repentance, initial and ongoing, occurs at the prompting of God. And so a few principles:
1. God moves first in life and in worship.
2. All of life and all of worship is a response to God's leading.
And once you get the anthropology down pat, lift your eyes to think about the theology proper - about the God who saves. Throughout the scriptures, when a human encounters God, there is an awestruck response. Consider how alarmed people are when they encounter heavenly beings even less impressive than God - angels - usually the first phrase out of an angel's mouth is "don't be afraid." And so as we come into God's presence, our first moments are tinged with what we know about theology and anthropology - on the one hand we cannot help but be awestruck. On the other hand, we immediately descend to see the great contrast between ourselves and our God. We are not like we were meant to be. We fought on the way to church with our families. We hurried up. We drank too much on Saturday night. We made fun of someone that morning on the side of the road. We are glorious wrecks in front of a holy God. And so, another principle:
3. One of our first responses in worship is to recognize the great contrast between God and ourselves. This involves both praising God and gaining a proper sense of perspective on ourselves.
4. Corollary: Praise and repentance need to be at the top of the order.
The Church (Ecclesiology) - Jesus told his disciples that whatever they "loose" (unbind) on earth will be unbound in heaven. He gave to human beings in the church the "keys" to the kingdom. This is not an absolute gift, and key-power can be exercised capriciously and abused just like any legitimate power. There are bad cops, but it does not follow that all cops are bad. And Jesus modeled the forgiveness of sins - telling people their sins are forgiven. His apostles did the same thing. God is at least one of the the offended parties in any sin, and it is he to whom we turn for forgiveness in life and in worship. But Jesus is in heaven, and while he is present by his Spirit in worship he is not present bodily and thus cannot vibrate molecules in the air to strike your eardrums with the words "you are forgiven." But people need to hear Jesus say "you are forgiven" just like you need to their wives, husbands, or children say it, and that's why God gave pastors to the church. Your pastor doesn't face the front of the church during the worship service like you do. He turns around and faces you. And that's because he is the voice of God you hear on Sundays - "how can they hear without a preacher?" And so while our anthropology tell us that humans need to ask God for forgiveness, our ecclesiology tells us that they can hear this forgiveness from preachers. And so:
5. After awe, after recognition of sin, after repentance, without an assurance of pardon, the story remains incomplete.
If you, as a pastor, feel uncomfortable with your instrumental role because of good old fashioned American egalitarianism or because of good old fashioned revivalism, that's okay. At least assure everyone of God's pardon when they have confessed. It's better just to declare pardon rather than to re-explain the mechanics of pardon as I often hear "If you have confessed your sins, God forgives you," because such statements will always leave the tender conscience in the pew focusing on the "if" part of the clause, wondering if they have confessed properly.
The Service So Far
Okay, these principles so far bring us through the initial part of worship. Here's how it works:
A. People enter the sanctuary and sit down or mill around.
B. God calls the people to worship. Usually the pastor does this by reading an actual call to worship from the scriptures. (If the passage doesn't begin with something like "worship God, all ye lands" or something, then the pastor is just reading a theme verse; text selection is important here.)
C. The people respond either by saying something in unison or by singing something together. Congregational singing at this point in the service is always a response to God.
D. We recognize God's holiness by singing a hymn of praise (e.g., Holy Holy Holy). We are like Isaiah, suddenly brought into the temple on the Lord's Day, and we are getting a glimpse of the train of God's robes. We are awestruck and awestruck lovers can't help but sing.
E. After this, the pastor must help us orient ourselves back to ourselves for a moment. He might say "If we say we have no sin" and we might respond "the truth is not in us." And this introduces a corporate confession of sins. We all read or sing the same thing, telling God we have sinned and asking for forgiveness.
F. At this point, we have responded to God's glory and confessed our own shame, and we need to hear God's forgiveness in Christ. And so the pastor will perhaps read the next part "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us." And then the key part - he says "Your sins are forgiven."
Now, I'll stop the blog post here. The bathroom is free and I can now comb my hair. But notice where we've reached in the service. We've entered the sanctuary, met with God, praised him, and sought/received forgiveness from him. I think you can guess the next step - thanking him for salvation; singing a hymn of thanksgiving. Hymns are not pre-game shows for the sermon, they are a response to God's leading. If you don't know what you're responding to when you are singing on Sundays, then your church's liturgy is doing you a disservice. Imagine standing before Queen Elizabeth and saying something to her but not knowing why. The liturgical conversation has a topic and you've got to keep up with the flow.
G. Hymn of praise, thanksgiving for the God who saves.
Next post, Lord willing, we'll consider what happens next. So far, however, in our liturgical story, the worshiper has been transformed from a guilty, nervous visitor hovering in the corner of the ballroom into a true son or daughter at the dinner party. By responding to God's call for repentance, and hearing his forgiveness, it is time now for some increasingly intimate interactions with God. We'll also wrap all this up by demonstrating that the two worship services actually recorded in the scriptures follow this exact pattern. But you know this pattern is true because it is the human story, a transition from wrath to grace in history and in one's person life.
A New Rob-ism
On several issues that we don't have to decide right away:
Well, let's just let them all hang out and see which one gets hit with a poison arrow.
How to create a great product
Don't be lazy. Constantly refine the experience of using it until it feels intuitive and polished. Make sure that everything it does, it does well. This means it will have few features at first. Test it thoroughly. Try it out with unlikely users. Don't be ashamed if it feels simple. Simple is very hard to get right. Make it easy to do something right and hard to do something wrong. Whimsy is okay, but mystery should be a rare feature. Again, don't be lazy- the feature needs to be right, even if it makes the creation harder. Make sure it works great every day until release. Try it when you're sleepy, well rested, hungry, bored- your users will experience the creation in all those settings. Make sure the most important feature is the most obvious and accessible. Make sure it is beautiful- beautiful things, all other attributes being equal, are more usable and will be used. The user is always right- for most products, their expertise is not open to your judgment: make them look good and feel good.
Can Moth and Rust Destroy the White Album?
I was talking with a friend the other day about the new heavens and the new earth. Christians believe that at some point (probably tens of thousands of years from now) this present age will end. Those who are alive will be joined by the resurrected bodies of those who have died and all will face the judgment after which the blessed will live on a new earth. This is just plain jane Christian orthodoxy so far except for my suggestion of thousands more years of human history which is just speculation. But different traditions convey different emphases about the present earth and its relation to the new earth. Some emphasize the transformation and perfecting of the present earth, while some emphasize a kind of catastrophic destruction and remaking of it. So that brings up the question of human culture; will anything survive into the new world?
Generally, we think of verses like Mt 6:20 where we are advised to store up treasures in heaven rather than on earth where moth and rust can destroy. Jesus implies that treasures on earth can't make the transition to heaven. Somehow it dawned on me, however, that some products of human culture are only susceptible to destruction if minds or parts of minds are destroyed. For example, I've probably listened to Mozart's horn concertos (I refuse to use a latinized plural) one hundred times. I have almost every intonation of the horn and every line of the music embedded in my consciousness. I know that music about as well as I know my own personal identity. How will my personal identity survive into the new earth without also my remembrance of the horn concertos? And if that tune survives, I could theoretically write it down on the new earth and boom, an artifact of earthy human culture makes the transition. Of course, that raises the question of excellence. We'd like to think that only excellent tunes would survive, but if excellent tunes can survive, what keeps ear worms from surviving other than direct intervention by God? So assuming there is a new earth and that Christian eschatology is true, I think there are several possibilities:
1. Anything good in minds clings to them and these good mental objects survive into the new heavens and the new earth.
2. All things in minds survive into the new heavens and the new earth.
3. God deletes all things from minds that are not constitutive of what it means to be the person.
4. God deletes some things from minds.
What kills me about 3 and 4 is that it implies that I can be psychologically continuous with the me who lacks 25% of his mental furniture all of a sudden. How can I distinguish "me" from the being who remembers what Signed, Sealed, Delivered sounds like?
Option one would likely appeal to my natural law loving friends because it sounds like the kind of teleological stuff they're always promoting to me. Perhaps the mind is oriented toward certain ends and this good-oriented mind has little receptor sites for the 'viruses' that are similarly aiming toward the good (e.g., good tunes). Number two gives me pause because it implies that even foul things - things not worthy of thinking - can survive through the veil. But think of Satan's temptations of Jesus - these are foul words, and we'd have to believe the bible doesn't make the transition to the new earth if we thought all foul words are completely absent in the new earth.
Now I'm sure some medieval father already thought through all these options, and I'll likely look into that at some point. But at least for now, I'm intrigued by the possibility of passing a musical message from the world now to the next world. Likewise, I could memorize a book or a poem and bring that with me.
Another intriguing possibility is that good music doesn't originate here to begin with. It originates elsewhere, perhaps we are just borrowing it now, and the question isn't "will it survive from here to there?" but rather, "why would we ever have thought that any of it originated here anyway?" But again, that raises the "excellence" question. Do some sublime tunes float out there in the universe for us to find now and recapture on the other side, but "What Does the Fox Say?" comes from here and fails to make the jump? What would it mean for something to originate here anyway when God is the All-Conditioner?
I don't know, but I do know that cows go "moo" and fish go "blub."
Gussied Up for a Wedding
I love one of the elders at my church. He is 6'6" and even at the age of 75, he stands tall and straight. His name is Rob.
Here are some of his funny expressions:
"When I was a kid we lived so far out in the country we had to drive towards town to go bird hunting."
An older shopkeeper commenting on his high school growth spurt:
"Boy, if you don't stop growing you're gonna fork."
When talking about the indecision following a crisis:
"We didn't know which nail to hang the dead chicken on."
Intinction in Heartland Presbytery (PCA)
The Aquila Report published an interesting news story today about how Heartland Presbytery in the PCA has ruled that intinction may no longer be practiced by churches within its bounds. It would be interesting to see the study committee report, the constitutional approach to the ruling, the minutes, etc. You know that I have argued at length that intinction is a bad idea and so while the outcome is a good one, a friend of mind pointed out something that should give us pause--that the means for achieving this prohibition are problematic. How, he wondered, can a presbytery simply rule a practice out of order that isn't out of order in the denomination as a whole? Suppose a presbytery ruled that only crackers could be used in communion or that only psalms may be sung within her churches. Would that be fair for ministers transferring to the presbytery or saints who move to a new location and who suddenly have to conform to local rules that no one previously imposed on them? It is an interesting question, especially since the denomination as a whole decided not to approve a ban on intinction at the General Assembly level.
Of course, local rules are nothing new. Some presbyteries will not ordain men who simply believe that young children should be given communion. Presbyteries are accustomed to local doctrinal control, often adopting their own rules and procedures for how to handle exceptions to the Westminster Standards. For example, some presbyteries allow men to teach exceptions, some don't. This is no different than having local rules for communion. I suppose, since I do not like the local doctrinal variations, that I should be opposed to the local praxis variations.
I continue to hope that one day the PCA will have a prayer book, a lectionary, and a common calendar across its presbyteries. Right now the PCA is like a box of chocolates. Very arrogant, novelty-loving chocolates.
Purity and Policy
One of the undercurrents of the progressive response to the failures of the Affordable Care Act is something like, "of course this system is not the best, it is compromised - we wanted a single-payer system and this is all we could get given the opposition party's influence." The response points to something true: that if there ever were a pure idea that could only work in practice if implemented without compromise, then no such idea could ever be enacted in a representative democracy. And so this defense is, in a sense, perfect. I think we conservatives can feel a lot of sympathy there - you've probably heard someone use the modified adage "Capitalism has not been tried and found wanting, it has not been tried." That adage expresses the same sentiment--whatever flaw emerges from any particular plan is not a defect of the plan itself but a defect of not having been able to enact an unadulterated plan from the beginning.
At base, such a critique is a critique of our form of government. And this reminds me of another justly famous quip, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest." Given that we have a representative democracy, we're accustomed to thinking in terms of checks and balances. If something has to be enacted in its pure form to actually work, then it cannot admit checks or balances. Ergo, nothing can ever be enacted in its pure form in America.
Of course, this situation kills me; I'm a theorist at heart, not a politician. Constant interference in the market destroys incentives. I am as frustrated by the constraints on the free market as a socialist is frustrated by the free market intrusions into the Affordable Care Act.
In the end, the only reason society doesn't melt is because some people aren't "rational." They keep working to pay off an underwater mortgage. They qualify for more public assistance than they get from working, yet keep working. Someone stays late to get the work done and meet the deadline. Someone leaks the documents and gives up his freedom for the sake of others. History works because of the suckers. I am not ashamed to be counted among the suckers. If the sucker can rule his own heart, he is greater than he who can rule a city (Prov. 16:32). Tell me that the broken politics in America right now is not an externalized vision of your own heart and I'll praise your self mastery. Otherwise, there is a city for you to rule right now. It requires no compromise. You are a little laboratory of the word and spirit and and you can try out any program of reform you like right now. You can experiment with incentives. You can legislate morality. You can implement austerity. You can give everything away. You can keep everything and use it for good. There will be a day when your little city stands before a much more exalted bar than a senate oversight committee meeting.
Further Reading: I never would have thought to bring the point around to where it landed without having read If You Don’t Learn To Obey Orders You Will Never Be Free; Here’s Why by Mark Horne
Man, I keep thinking of good things to blog, but I forget by the time night rolls around. So here's some random stuff I keep meaning to talk about. It is unguarded and lacks nuance and borders on venting at times:
The other day, my 10th grader's public school health teacher asked the class how many of them eat dinner together with their families most evenings at a dinner table. He was the only one who raised his hand in a class of about 20 high schoolers.
One of the neat bits of fauna I keep seeing in Starkville, MS is the Kildee bird. I saw these a lot growing in South Mississippi too. They are cute little birds that almost look like shorebirds, but they live inland and build their nests on the ground. I hope the new "tawny crazy ants" that were in the news today don't decimate these birds. They have a lot of fearlessness to them that I admire.
The dog we rescued, Star, is putting on some weight thanks to these little balls of cheap hamburger meat, molasses, oats, and oil that Ann makes for her. We're trying to make it where you can't see her bones so easily. But she is a Weimeraner and they look very taut anyway - she reminds me a little bit of the invisible horses in Harry Potter.
Two weekends ago, we went to the Tamale Festival in Greenville, MS. There is a tradition of tamale making in the Mississippi Delta that goes back no one knows how long ago. Apparently all the creole, African American, Chinese, Mexican, and other influences in the area, coupled with the abundance of corn and pork, made it a natural thing to create. Above is a photo of the tamale queen. She was wearing a corn-husk dress. The festival was fun - 20 or so booths selling a variety of tamale styles, and the local homebrewing scene made a good showing with free samples of all kinds of interesting beers - one had been brewed to compliment tamales.
I and my 10th grader also went to see Neutral Milk Hotel and it was a wonderful concert. I was impressed that they recreated so many of their songs sonically which requires playing saws with bows and bringing in a number of brass players. I didn't take any photos at the show, at the band's request. What's really hard for me is that their most famous album, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" was largely inspired by the lead singer's reading of the Anne Frank biography and so many of the songs are really tragic and existentially grim when you think about it. Watching everyone dance to an ironically fast song in which the lyrics go "And it's so sad to see the world agree / That they'd rather see their faces fill with flies" is hard to hear without tearing up - it's about the apathy that would make something like sending the crew and passengers of the St. Louis back to their deaths in 1939 or the killing of millions of American babies that is happening right now. This world is full of that kind of stuff and it is probably best not to be thinking about it at 11 p.m. freaking o'clock which is when they apparently put concerts on for the youngsters who aren't old like me. I think about the lead singer and his breakdown when they first became successful back in the early nineties and stopped touring. How many times is he going to be able to sing those songs and watch people dance and not himself get too weary at the spectacle of it all.
Interesting thing about that concert. The stage had one decoration - a lamb, illuminated from within. It could have been transplanted from a nativity scene. It was very prominently lit at a lot of key points in the show. I think the lead singer's refrain "I love you Jesus Christ" is not ironic in the least. I think he is a damaged, artistic soul who probably has yet to come to grips with an odd fundamentalist upbringing but is unable to shake the transcendent.
I'm starting to think that the form of pop music, indie or otherwise, can't bear up under the weight of the serious content it wants to tackle. I love "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" but at some level, it doesn't work. Kind of like I keep seeing Christians take Jazz music very seriously. After seeing the Ken Burns documentary on Jazz, I can't shake thinking of Jazz as essentially brothel music. That's what it is. At the risk of committing a genetic fallacy, I just can't see bringing, at worst, brothel music, or, at best, lounge music into worship. That's just not what it is for. And the same goes for RUF which is bringing hoedown music into Worship and glum ballads into worships, and 19th century hymns which brought lullabies into worship. Then you have RUF versions of the lullabies which are total downers. Anyway, that deserves another post. At some point, Jacob Nielsen wrote an article "Flash: 99% Bad" that signaled the beginning of the end of the dominance of Flash content on websites. I'm hoping someday we realize that 99% of RUF songs are perfect for RUF large group meetings, but entirely inappropriate for corporate, sunday-morning worship. Someone needs to write that one.
Okay, gotta run to bed.
Gary the Parakeet, RIP
In 2011, when I worked at Coolfire Solutions in St. Louis, someone there bought a parakeet as a prank to leave in the office of one of the main directors when he returned from vacation. "Gary the Canary." Of course, he wasn't a canary, but the name stuck.
After the prank was over, one of the other employees had pity on Gary and bought a cage and other bird supplies and Gary became the office pet. Gary's cage was in Mary Kate's office, but from there he could not see the sun and often screeched loudly during video production. I can still hear one of the video editors yelling out for Gary to pipe down.
At some point the intolerable noise and a long weekend led to the suggestion that I should take Gary home to meet my family for the weekend. Ann and all the boys loved Gary. At our house he made all of these complicated warbles and tweets. He was very pleasant - a different side of Gary than I'd seen at work.
Eventually someone just said I should take Gary home for good and that's how he became our bird. He grew larger and bluer. He developed a pretty purple line on his face, and he continued to sing. He responded to each member of the family very differently. For instance, he would jam his belly up to the side of the cage for Ann to rub. And for me, he would turn sideways and jam his tail feathers through the cage and I would tug gently on them and he would never vary this way of relating to us. He had a two part whistle that sounded a little bit like "Gar - ee" but maybe all parakeets make that sound.
Gary weathered the move from St. Louis to Starkville very well. The Starkville location for his cage faced a window that received eastern light and he continued to sing and make beautiful warbling sounds. I would say hello to him a few times a day, and Ann continued to rub his belly.
Yesterday morning while Ann was walking with a friend, Charlie found Gary dead in his cage. Charlie took a white cloth napkin and wrapped Gary in it. When Ann came home she found him, sad, holding the little shrouded Gary. Later when Eli came home from school, he was very sad too, and by that time, Gary lay in state in the bottom of his cage wrapped in the napkin. When I got home from work, the first person I saw was James standing right in the door when I opened it and he said "Dad, we've gotta get another bird."
After supper, I found a beautiful blue box that my business cards came in and put Gary and the napkin into the box. I dug a hole in the front yard, between the holly bush and the gas meter, and made sure it was deep enough. Then all six of us, plus the neighbor boy across the road, surrounded the little hole and I opened the top of the box. Nathan had decided to play chords on his guitar and we all talked about what a good bird Gary was. Then we bowed our heads and we thanked God for the hope of the resurrection and that if animals are resurrected too that we hoped we would get to see Gary someday again. Eli was very sad and he started singing a song of his own devising in tune with the chords Nathan was playing. It was a fitting song, and I felt like my chest was singing along with him. Then I put the top on the box and put Gary down into the bottom of the hole and we each put a little dirt on top, and finally I put the divot of sod on top.
We tried to figure out what may have happened to Gary and learned that parakeets do their very best not to let on when they are sick or weak. In the world of birds, the weak bird is usually killed by the others. And so birds usually appear healthy and strong right up until the time when they can no longer keep it together. That sounds tragically familiar.
This article was helpful to me. It would be nice to have a list of the "research-based education" whims that have passed through American public schools. For instance, I wonder if this explains the origins of the "Bell Ringer" - a small bit of busy work that students are supposed to work on as class is starting so as to eliminate milling around time and make it impossible for kids on the autism spectrum to make a good grade on their daily work:
After the ineffective year of effective schools came SPONGE. UCLA professor Madeline Hunter’s model for teaching sought to soak up every second of class time with so-called SPONGE activities to keep students focused and “on task.” I’ve never thought students should be focused — or could be focused — every moment, and I’ve always abhorred mindless, condescending busywork. But we had assistant principals coming through to make sure we applied the model.
When I asked one administrator about the origin of the SPONGE acronym, he couldn’t tell me, but he warned that it would be “teacher’s risk” not to keep students “on task,” unless there was a clear “teachable moment” that would allow me to deviate. (SPONGE, I later learned, meant: “SHORT, intense, vivid activities, which provide PRACTICE of learned material, which students can do ON their own, and which will also include NEW arrivals or those finishing an assignment early, by keeping the GROUP involved, and designed to ELICIT an immediate response.”) I don’t think that lasted more than two years.
Via: Washington Post