Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Does Sanctification Come Through Experiences?

The following is based on the article 

Is Christian journaling good or bad? Is it a 'spiritual discipline'? Is it part of 'spiritual formation'?

From the blog, "The End Time."

            In her article, Elizabeth discusses the unbiblical practice of “journaling” as a mysticist endeavor to ‘allow God to speak to you,’ etc etc. She makes repeated (true) statements about sanctification that I wanted to reflect on for myself. She says that sanctification doesn’t come from something you do, or an experience you have, it comes from outside yourself—from God. Definitely true. But I think I need to be more specific and say that, logically speaking, God surely can use material/temporal conditions to effect sanctification. Just as God works through the Christian witness to reach the Lost, God can (meaning two things: He isn’t required, and He is able to) work through our thoughts, actions and life experiences to sanctify us. Thought experiment: if we were to reject that idea in totality, it would imply that our interaction with God is completely divorced from physical reality. But none of us exist in a void. We see, we feel, we experience things and think about them. What do we pray about if not other people, ourselves, and God’s kingdom—all things which are only contemplatable through our personal experiences with external stimuli? How do we experience spiritual personal growth if we do not have a real world to measure our development against? We don’t exist apart from everything else; we are intimately connected with the world we live in and we are definitely both affected by things that happen in it, and can effect things to happen in it. But note, this is distinct from those things being inherently sanctifying themselves. Can God use a tough personal trial to sanctify you? Absolutely. Can a person go through a tough personal experience and experience no sanctification whatsoever? Definitely. So what’s the difference between whether you can be sanctified through a given experience/thing, or not? It is God, and only God. This is consistent with the Biblical truth that God can use evil things for good. The evil things are not good, and they do not benefit you spiritually (sanctify you). GOD, however, can operate sovereignly through evil and accomplish sanctification in spite of it. Thus, my holistic summary of sanctification is that we as individuals are certainly able to be influenced by our environment, and even our own thoughts, but whether these things will produce a positive spiritual result or merely a temporary mental/physical one depends utterly on to what extent the Holy Spirit is involved in them. The conclusion, then, is to always pray that God will use the things that you do, think, and experience every day to grow you spiritually and sanctify your soul. You will always have interactions with the material world in this life. Why allow for the possibility of unsanctifying experiences? Ask God to ensure that the things that happen to you will be 100% for your good, and that He prevent the occurrence of things that are detrimental to your spiritual growth, even if that involves something in your thoughts. Then you can go about your day with confidence, knowing that God is intimately ‘ordering your steps,’ and making every possible opportunity into a learning experience.  

I think I’ve agreed with Elizabeth’s view as summed up by this statement she makes: “But doing journaling or not doing journaling doesn't hinder or help the Lord's Providential working in our lives.” 

Final thought from the Bible: Philippians 2:12-13: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” 

~ Rak Chazak

I figured I would addend to the bottom, here, a relevant article by John MacArthur that was just recently posted. -- The Apparent Paradox of Sanctification

"The truth is that sanctification is God’s work, but He performs it through the diligent self-discipline and righteous pursuits of His people, not in spite of them. God’s sovereign work does not absolve believers from the need for obedience; it means their obedience is itself a Spirit-empowered work of God."

Treatise: Time Well Wasted

Treatise: Time Well Wasted

       If I told you that I’d wasted my time, after talking to you or spending a lot of time with you etc etc then it wouldn’t necessarily be an insult. A waste of time says nothing about the means by which the time was wasted. Time can either be spent well or spent poorly. This has to do with what you did with your time. And time is either wasted or not wasted. Wasting has to do with what you didn’t do with your time. Your time was wasted if you had something important to do that you didn’t do, because of whatever you did instead. And what you did instead could have been productive just as easily as it could have been unproductive. Therefore, it is quite possible to waste your time well. I have often done this in the past, and so I consider time spent talking to people and building relationships, when I could be studying something or working on an ongoing project, to be time well wasted. 

        Let me tell you how I came to have this opinion. When I was saved/’reignited’ (God knows the difference) in the Spring of 2010, I was drawn into a continual process of “self-learning,” self simply by virtue of the fact that I alone sat at my computer and followed the indications of my curiosity (which, like the conscience, is one way that I believe God’s Holy Spirit works through us to guide us to truth. In my experience, resolving a question has many times led to the discovery of a profound Biblical doctrine, scientific factoid, historical account, or mode of reasoning that has benefited me as a growing believer, and so I try to pray that God will manipulate my subconscious mind to lead me to think His thoughts after Him, so that I can “follow ‘my’ instincts,” knowing that they are His leading). I would spend several hours a day clicking links and reading extensive articles on websites such as Answers in Genesis, Christian-ThinkTank, Tektonics, TrueOrigin, ApologeticsPress, and later GotQuestions, Answering-Islam, and others. I discovered many sites after a time, but these were the key ones in the beginning, by which I learned vast amounts of apologetics and wrestled through the initial phase of wanting to verify to remove the chance of doubt returning. I believe I spent over 100 hours between mid-March and late May, absorbing and processing huge stores of Biblical information. A full half of those were consumed in the mid-period by a thorough analysis of “errors” in the Bible, to be able to consciously confidently accept that the Bible is inerrant. 

       The consequence of spending all this time researching Biblical Christianity was that I wasted the remaining time that I had not already wasted by oversleeping, playing video games, arguing on discussion forums, eating, watching movies online, etc, so that there was very little time to study, and my grades consequently suffered. Time wasted, but was it not well spent? Can time be any better spent than worshiping God, reading His Word, learning about Him and the world that He created, and in turn sharing it with others? I don’t think so. But can you nevertheless spend so much time simply learning about God that the other aspects of a life pleasing to Him, such as communion with other Christians, witnessing to the Lost, and the godly aspects of a life of personal responsibility, involving personal growth and academic, professional and civic success (by God’s standards) – that these aspects atrophy? Of course. And I believe that I began to do that then, and continued it without exercising the self-control I needed until about Summer 2012. 

       I’ve been getting better even since, and am now ‘taking a break’ (comparatively speaking) from all the reading I’ve done online, and am focusing more intensively on my professional development, and with having fellowship with other Christians. But looking back, I conclude that I wouldn’t have gotten to this point of spiritual maturity that I’m at now, if I hadn’t put in the long hours over the past three years to study and learn from those older, wiser, more knowledgeable and experienced than I. So was it time well spent? Absolutely. Therefore I consider it time well wasted. It was only ‘wasted’ in the sense that there were other things I could have been doing at that time, which suffered from neglect. But it was time well spent because I’ve now become highly prepared for future trials of faith and whatever ministry God has planned for my adult life. I feel nothing if not ready…confident. Now I can turn my energies toward things I’d semi-left behind in the meantime, and not worry about there being any loose ends. 

        I think that Satan and his workmen like to use the opposite method of Genesis 50:20 and attempt to use what God has intended for good and pervert it for evil. God can never be fooled this way—but we can, if we’re not careful. Is doing something good a good thing? Self-evidently so, yes. But can a good thing be done in a wrong way? You bet. For me, studying the Word and ‘loving God with my mind,’ as the Greatest Commandment reads in part, was my “good,” and neglecting to exercise self-discipline with respect to prioritizing my time between things with deadlines and things without was my “bad way” in which I did it. The question is, where should the line be drawn between continuing to do a particular good, and stopping it lest you do it to the exclusion of other goods? Everyone must decide for themselves on a case by case basis. If you must waste time, waste it well. But it is better not to waste it at all. 

~ Rak Chazak

Monday, July 29, 2013

Extreme Tedium

Tedium is just a 'smarter sounding' word for 'tediousness.' And I like how it evokes the word 'medium,' as in a 'means, substance or force' through which one travels, as if to figuratively imply that tedium is like a thick soup of boredom that one has to slog through and risks getting stuck in. That's how I feel about job-searching on the internet. 

The internet is a great thing in the sense that it allows us to reach out to an infinitude of bits of information, in this case career listings. But the internet has so much stuff in it that your browser can become glutted by useless information that initially seemed promising but in the end is just a waste of time. I bet there's a brain-chemistry relationship between the impulse hoarders feel and the sensation "normal people" (a mythical creature no one has ever seen) have when we abuse the "open in new tab" function as we search youtube videos or articles that cater to our interests.

In the case of jobs, I'm not terribly addicted to clicking on link after link, so the same mechanic that leads to an enjoyable waste of time now leads to an unenjoyable waste of time. Alas, this is a "necessary evil," in the sense that what is evil is what annoys you. Doing stuff you don't get a thrill from doing (while looking for jobs, incidentally) is a good preparation for working a steady job in the future, when tedium is to be expected. 

I just made myself laugh.

~ Rak Chazak

Monday, July 22, 2013

Has Al Mohler Gone Soft?

Has Al Mohler Gone Soft?

With the muddling done by several longtime conservative pastors in recent years, and the seeming loss of Evangelicalism’s ability to draw lines between Church and Culture, it’s encouraging to be able to look toward a few staunch teachers and hope that they continue to remain unshaken. There’s a big temptation for high-profile leaders in the Church to capitulate in the realm of language in order to appear less offensive to whoever’s listening. But as has been abundantly demonstrated by watchdogs such as Answers in Genesis and Wretched, once the door of compromise has been cracked, it isn’t long before it’s pushed open further, and eventually thrown wide. Walking back “offensive language” comes before walking back “offensive convictions.” It may begin with good intentions, but it never ends the same way. Similarly, making non-doctrinal compromises—social, political, etc—precedes compromises on theological doctrines, and that’s what I want to speak about today.

                One of the ‘big guys’ in American Christendom is Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his blog is located here. He’s one of the pastors of the Church who’s visible on the national level and has a large online presence as well. Most of his writing is powerfully on-point and not theologically wishy-washy in any sense. And as I indicated at the end of the opening paragraph, I didn’t read anything that looked like theological compromise. Nevertheless, a recent article he wrote, commenting on the Zimmerman trial verdict, gave me cause for concern.
“[T]he editors of The Washington Post got it exactly right when they declared that “the central tragedy of this case—the death of a 17-year-old boy who had been on a simple errand to get snacks—remains.” ”
                Something about this bothers me, and it’s not that Dr. Mohler lauds a liberal publication. In fact, he frequently comments on headlines from the New York Times, and I don’t see anything fundamentally wrong with that. I imagine he does so to “keep his finger on the pulse of the culture,” as one might say. You can’t communicate with the world you’re in if you don’t know what the world is saying, and the NYT is one of the more widely-read papers in the US, so I understand that. But I hope that Dr. Mohler doesn’t only get his news from the Washington Post, New York Times, and similar outlets, for the same reason that I understand the purpose in reading them in the first place—they belong to the culture. They can’t be considered reliable sources of information by Biblical Christians, because the entire worldview from which those publications operate is hostile to Christianity and the Bible. Indeed, how to get reliable news in a world like this is a question worth spending more time on, so I anticipate writing a future entry on that subject.

                What bothers me about what Dr. Mohler wrote is that he seemingly unquestioningly goes along with the main-stream media narrative, namely that of the “innocent victim sweet little boy who was mercilessly gunned down for doing nothing wrong,” that I’ve become nauseated by hearing from the broadcast television that I have access to, day in and day out. Now, obviously Dr. Mohler didn’t say that, but the phrase “simple errand to get snacks” implies an agreement with the underlying narrative of Trayvon’s utter innocence. Stop for a minute, and question whether I’m overreacting or reading things into this. I do not believe I have. Consider how thoroughly the abovementioned narrative has permeated the “news” coverage of the trial, and one must realize that if you are saying the same things as the media has been saying, then the only way to demonstrate that you are not agreeing with the implicit unspoken premise is to distance yourself from those statements by making contrary statements, to establish a concrete difference of viewpoint. Otherwise one would reasonably conclude that by the absence of such, Dr. Mohler is agreeing wholeheartedly with whatever opinions have been published in the Post since the story became news a year and a half ago.

                In support of the view that the WP and NYT have not been forthcoming with accurate details about the trial is Dr. Mohler’s paragraph that I have reproduced below.
“I do not want to become one of [the pundits]. This nation needs a deep and intensive conversation about racial profiling, self-defense laws, and a range of issues related to this tragic case. It is dangerous to be a young black male in America. It is true that a young black man is far more likely to be killed by another young black man in this country. Trayvon Martin was killed, however, not by another African-American young male, but by a man who in a 911 call declared Trayvon was suspicious and out of place and then rejected the police dispatcher’s order to stop following him.” [emphasis added]
                Two things: one, Dr. Mohler makes two neutral statements followed by one that brings some perspective, but has not received airtime except by conservative pundits, incidentally. I say this not to criticize Dr. Mohler and suggest that he’s being a pundit—I’m saying it to balance out my concern over whether he’s trying to please a certain audience by going along with the culture current. This statement that black men are “far more likely” (I believe the numbers are 94% or higher) to be killed by other black men than by any other sex or ethnicity, is a politically incorrect statement, and I’m glad Dr. Mohler made it here. It indicates his continued willingness to speak unpopular truths and not be cowed by, in this case, race-hustlers.

                The other thing is this: that statement is essentially the only place in the entire article where one might get a hint of whether Dr. Mohler actually disagrees with the agitators like Al Sharpton, because in the rest of his article, he speaks much the same language as those on Al Sharpton’s side have been speaking in interviews for weeks on television. I’m worried that Dr. Mohler unfortunately underemphasized the “pushback” to the media narrative, and overemphasized an attempt at sympathy, to the point of possibly appearing to completely agree with the race-hustlers, if one of them were to read his article.

                Dr. Mohler states as fact that Zimmerman “rejected the police dispatcher’s order to stop following him.” This is sadly impossible to know for sure, at best, and quite possibly completely false. According to the recorded call Zimmerman made, he was asked if he was following Martin. He replied that he was, at which point the dispatcher said, “okay, we don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman responded, “okay.” This means that Zimmerman was already out of the car when he was told not to follow Martin, and according to his own testimony, was returning to the car, in compliance with the dispatcher’s statement, when Martin attacked him. NOT that he blatantly disobeyed an order and left the car to pursue, after being told he should not. A further point of note, one is not legally obligated to comply with a 911 dispatcher’s requests, even if this particular operator’s statements could be parsed as an “order.” This is what alarmed me the most, because it seemed to me upon reading this that Dr. Mohler has also, as many of us have been before, become a victim to a deceitful media establishment and failed to be aware of the facts of the case due to their omission in reporting. **

                I want to make a very clear statement, here, and it is that I am not motivated by the idea that I could ‘make a name for myself’ by ‘challenging’ one of the big theological leaders of the day. I know that delusions of glory can drive a person to become a persistent critic who never seeks resolution, only conflict, for the purpose of gaining attention, or a following, for himself. I’ve seen it before, and am well acquainted with being on the “criticized” end of that game. My twofold purpose in writing this post is to express my concern about ‘the way we talk about things,’ in general, hopefully giving readers something beneficial to think about, and secondly to ask Dr. Mohler to be more clear—like he usually is—in how he writes about “hot-button topics,” so that he doesn’t waffle about the issues. In keeping with this purpose, I’ve sent Dr. Mohler a courtesy email to inform him that I’ve written a blog post “critiquing” him, so that he can read it if he wishes. I doubt my little blog would make him feel the need to publish a response, but then again, that’s not my decision to make for him. I just would like for him to hear my voice. I realize that pastors don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re men like the rest of us. I’ve heard a political slogan that goes, “who watches the watchers?” It refers to government without oversight. When there are no checks or balances, the whole system becomes unbalanced. In a similar vein, “who helps the helpers?” Aside from God, there’s no one on a theological level above shepherds of the flock. So the pastors can either get feedback from other pastors, or otherwise “the little guys,” members of their church, denomination or the Body of Christ generally. Therefore, though it may feel insolent—whether it is or not—I believe it’s my responsibility to give feedback to church leaders when I think I have something worth saying, and so I make the attempt to do so. The worst thing that can happen is that I’m not listened to. 1 Timothy 5:1 says, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.” It is my hope that this is what I have accomplished, here. Church leaders need our encouragement and exhortation, too. I hope this rationale doubles to serve as a motivation for others to do likewise, responsibly.

                Now to finish up. I have to quote this next part as a section, because it wasn’t any individual word that was out of place, simply that the thing as a whole makes me think after reading it, “what was that about?”
“The central tragedy remains. A smiling 17-year-old boy who had gone to a convenience store to buy a soft drink and a snack was shot to death, and we will never know exactly how or why. We just know that it is an unspeakable tragedy. It is a moral tragedy that even the best system of justice cannot remedy, much less restore. It is a political tragedy, a cultural tragedy, and a legal mess. But far more than these, it is the tragedy of a boy now dead, of parents and loved ones grieving, and of a nation further wounded, confused, and tormented by the color line.
I think of the young black men on the campus I am honored to lead. I think of the faithful black parents whose families I so know, love, admire. I think of what they have to worry about that I never have to think about. I think of the conversations that must come for our nation and for our churches.But most of all I am thinking of those parents who have to have that talk I never had to have with my son. I pray and yearn for that day when those conversations will not be necessary. May God watch over every single one of them, for they, starting with Trayvon Martin, belong to all of us.”
                It just seems…airy. A lot of feeling words that don’t seem to be making a coherent point – which wouldn’t be a problem, if it weren’t for the fact that the article implies that it’s intended to make some sort of point… I’m so used to seeing this sort of vacuousness in heretical writings like “A New Kind of Christianity” and Rob Bell’s ‘I have no idea what I’m doing, so follow me’ mental vomit, and it bothers me that the writing style of the above paragraph mimics theirs—moving around and hard to nail down as being “for” something concrete. I’m super thankful that this isn’t about theology and doctrine, but it’s about a sensitive cultural issue that could sure use clarity rather than…whatever this is.
                I should also mention that I thought a similar way when I listened to Dr. Mohler’s radio interview with Jimmy Carter, within the last year. Despite Carter having very unorthodox views, Dr. Mohler didn’t challenge him on any of his beliefs, and they appeared to be chumming it up over how Carter’s been teaching Sunday School in his particular congregation. I can’t help but wonder if Dr. Mohler was a bit wary of questioning Carter’s inconsistencies – remember, this was an interview! – simply because he carried the label of Baptist. This is in the back of my mind as I’ve been writing about this recent article.

                What would have been better? Instead of being an antagonist, I’ll offer an alternative so that my criticism is constructive: I think it would have been good if the article had included something to the tune of saying that yes, there is a real sensitivity about race among many people in this country, but drawing a distinction and saying that the focus should be taken off the Zimmerman trial totally, so that we can focus on the real issues that contribute to this problem in the culture. There is an obvious attempt by many to use Zimmerman as a scapegoat, as a target for the release of rage over race, and as if by destroying him, the problem can be fixed. It can not. It would have been great if Dr. Mohler would have said something to this effect, though with the much better tact that he has. He did say that the legal issue of guilt was distinct from the moral issue of race, but I would have hoped that he’d gone farther, and said that the moral meta-conflict of racism in this country is distinct from the side question of whether Zimmerman or Martin (ironically, no one in the popular media seems to be questioning the latter) were racially biased in any of their actions that night. The bottom line is that the Zimmerman trial has been a media side-show from the very beginning, intended by political and media elites to as a diversionary enterprise to distract minority blacks in America from questioning what the real source of their difficulties are. I don’t expect Dr. Mohler to necessarily agree with my political view on this issue, but he seems to at least understand where I’m coming from when he implies that the problems for the ‘black community’ are mostly internal (that most black murder victims are victims of other black males). However, I would hope that he wouldn’t, in the future, allow racially-motivated grievance-mongers (sorry, I couldn’t think of an unoffensive way to say that) to interpret his statements as indicating that he’s “on their side.” As a final reiteration, Dr. Mohler’s article is far from being even close to a “bad” article, but in case his emphasis on sympathy and lack of emphasis on drawing clear lines to define the discussion are indicative of hesitance on his part to confront the culture in one arena, I wanted to write this to make clear whether or not that is or will be the case. “Set the story straight.” “Nip it in the bud.” I hope I haven’t come across as rude or insolent, but deeply desire for any readers to consider how they use words to communicate with the gamut of people in the potential internet audience.

Thank you.

~ Rak Chazak

**Any inaccurate information is solely the result of a personal failure to recall correctly, or fact-check the details before publishing, and is not an attempt to sway public opinion by being deceitful or misleading. I welcome corrections to the summary I gave, if a reader is willing to leave a link to an authoritative source of information in a comment on this post.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Personal Life Updates

Different people who read blogs read for different reasons. So I figured I'd make a short post telling about some things that have gone on with me this summer (not extremely personal, but then, we all have different standards for that, don't we?).

I had my first ever "conference call," when I called up my insurance company to see if it was they or the provider that had goofed up the insurance information. There were three of us all on the line simultaneously. So cool! I want to know if it's possible to do the same with a standard phone, because that was really useful. Or could be, for a variety of purposes.

I helped my mom move in a new couch. My brother got the older one, and whoever moves out first, says mom, gets to take it with them. That may be a trick, considering that upon moving out, it's unlikely one would have a big place, and so they may not have room for the couch!

My county fair out in Nowheresville, Nothingburg had some "KJV-only" guys there handing out material (including jolly ranchers, yum!). I butted heads with them a little and it didn't look like I was listened to at all, but I managed to express to them that I wanted them to be encouraged, but I "in love, must tell you that I disagree," with their emphasis on the KJV being the only acceptable English translation. The KJV is a fine translation, but it misses things that the others (like the ESV, NASB, etc) cover, and vice versa. However, of all the things to disagree with someone over, I'm glad it's a preference like this (they told me they did not think that you were unsaved if you disagreed with them), and not an essential doctrine of salvation. The Gospel run-through that they gave me was on target, so I came away relieved. Naturally, I thought of several great 'stumper' questions I could've asked, long afterward.

Also at the county fair, there was a "Right to Life" booth, and I discovered that Planned Parenthood actually has a shop in my town! Totally unmarked from the street, of course. I've driven by where its address is several times and never seen such a sign. You know why that is? They instinctively know it's a shameful thing they're doing, and want to hide it.

I finished the first paperback book (leisure reading) of the summer. It was about dinosaurs being discovered on an unexplored planet in the far future. Mildly interesting in the middle but tedious in the beginning and underwhelming in its 100-page post-climax conclusion. It was the first book I'd read, other than 1984, since going to college--that wasn't assigned reading.

I tried to explain what 'fainting' is to an 8-year-old, and I think he understood. Hard to tell. I saw fireworks both on July 3rd and July 4th, which is the only time I've done that if you don't count the private fireworks a few years ago in the West Virginia Panhandle. One of those hit the side of a house and exploded on the ground. FUN.

I found out that I'm the picture of perfect health except that I'm "unbelievably allergic," according to the professional allergist. Details in previous blog post.

I painted the front porch and primed the walls in my bathroom (mom painted them). Things are getting rather spiffy around the house. The garage looks like an actual workshop and not a parts-dump, now. And our Jack Russel Terrier is getting white hairs on previously all-black parts of his head and ears. He's 11 years old. You should see his leg muscles. It's ridiculous. His muscles ripple beneath the fur. They're a "big dog in a small dog's body." Tons of energy. All that running after tennis balls (and frogs--I think he likes to bite anything that bounces) is probably why he's so fit. 

Til later!

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Aw Shucks!

Good news can bum you out!

Today I got the results of several tests I've been doing at an allergist. According to him, I am "off-the-charts" allergic to some trees and especially grasses. But I have no asthma, or exercise-induced breathing difficulty--in fact, the exercise test showed breathing improvement after 10 minutes of jogging at about 5 miles an hour. So that's something to rejoice over! But the theory is that exercise during allergy season can cause issues, because of how allergic I am to the seasonal stuff.

So the conclusion is that I'm healthy! Which means there's nothing I really have to do to get treated, except as a matter of preference. I don't know how much it'll cost for allergy shots, but I suppose I will eventually have the procedure done to make me immune to the allergens (you can actually do that!!). For now it's just a waiting game until next season, when I'll see how much of a difference Allegra makes (Claritin was useless for me), and then decide if shots are the way to go.

It feels good to have a clean bill of health. And I can't help but chuckle at the idea that my level of reaction to grass pollen either surprised or impressed the allergist. I have a "get-out-of-cutting-the-lawn-free-card" that I can use whenever I want, now. xD

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Journal Entry: Thoughts About Being Bad At Keeping Track of Time and Numbers

I keep a typed Journal on my computer, and I've been keeping track of a few countdowns and "countups," such as the number of days since my birthday, and one of these countdowns is until a particularly unusual astronomical phenomenon, which I'll address in a future post (take note, if you google it, I am not of the opinion that it's a date that predicts the Rapture or Second Coming--the latter would be impossible, anyway, because we would be in the midst of the Tribulation, and that's patently not the case). Here's what I wrestled with one day.

Monday, July 8
Countdown 2 is numbering the days remaining until September 23rd, 2014. But I’ve been notoriously bad at keeping countdowns before, or countups for that matter, if you look at my [previous Journal] entries where I was trying to keep track of how many of the 180 days in the school year had passed. I was off by double digits by the end. So these counts I have are partly an experiment to see if I can keep track of time accurately and consistently.  I’m going to attempt to lay out my reasoning below so that it’ll be possible to check my process at some point in the future.

Okay, here’s my check on Countdown 2: Apparently I’ve been counting down to September 13. Here’s what I did. I counted the rest of the days in July, not including the 8th, and all the days in August. Then I counted 22 days in September, thus not including the 23rd. That gives me 23, 31 and 22, respectively, which add up to 76. The days from July 9th through next July 8th, inclusive, are 365 days, and so for the next year (2016 is the next leap year). The total of all this comes to 806. Subtracting 10 days gives 796 days until September 13, not inclusive. So even with meticulous attention, I can still have an error of one or two days after only a little more than a half year, as you can see. This irks me. I should note that the counts on the back inside folder page of (Volume 10) were done prior to the recount I’m doing right now. This way, anyone reading after can adjust for my errors. It would make so much more sense to me if the number I had was higher than the one I just got, because then I could justify it by saying that I was counting inclusively with either today’s date or the final date. But alas, the error is the opposite, and so I can’t find any other conclusion than that I have made a counting error at some point when I wasn’t going day-by-day. How frustrating! For a guy who isn’t stupid, to be this poor with numbers, it’s immensely irritating to consistently make mistakes of the simplest sort – forgetting a number here or there, or a minus sign, or misplacing a decimal. This is the ironic reason why I was bad at calculus. Not because the logic was difficult, but because I would make minute numerical errors that would completely throw off the answer, and it would be impossible to find out where the mistake was without a monumental waste of time that wasn’t guaranteed to even be fruitful. Logic isn’t hard for me to keep track off, it’s the quantifying of things that aren’t distinguishable (one ‘3’ is the same as any other ‘3’). I’m not the sort of person who can discover a new mathematical equation, or program a computer. I have a certain level of respect for those who can and do, although I’m reserved, because I recognize that they’re not fundamentally more intelligent than me (some are, quite a few, however, are not), just as I am not fundamentally more intelligent than someone whose expertise lies in law or economics whereas mine is in the life sciences – the thing to be aware of is that our brains work differently, and our minds think differently. Some people’s ‘way’ of thinking is simply better suited for highly numerical things, like accounting, cyber security, or teaching hyper-advanced Calculus to PhD candidates. Then there are those who are good with people, not numbers, and still others whose mindset (meant here in the same way as the word “skill-set”) makes them better able to be self-sufficient than others. There is a certain level of intelligence possessed by those who can build their own house, repair their own cars, farm their own land and hunt their own food, that is far too often overlooked by those who have been blessed by those who do these things for us, allowing our minds to think about things beyond what’s necessary to secure our immediate survival. My exasperating failure to keep track of numbers without an aid is a small blessing to me that reminds me to be humble in how I view myself, and to be appreciative and respectful of others who do the things that I can’t. My understanding of how intelligence works, moreover, prevents me from being overmuch impressed with someone’s performance to the point of being blinded to their fallibility as a human being. Just because someone’s an accountant, doesn’t mean he knows how to best improve the economy. Just because someone’s a psychiatrist, doesn’t mean they know how to talk to people. Just because someone’s a neuroseurgon, doesn’t mean he can tell you whether mind is all brain or if there’s a soul. Just because someone’s a biologist, doesn’t mean he can tell you how life begins. Just because someone’s smart, in other words, doesn’t mean that their knowledge is real knowledge, or that they can apply what they know wisely. Even smart people can make dumb decisions. So my wisdom to you is to be wary. No one can require you to listen to them as if they have a handle on the truth themselves, because no matter how much they know or think they know, there is ALWAYS someone better than them. Someone who knows more, and who can think about the same things without making mistakes. My voyage of thought has taught me this much.  

After posting this, now that I'm connected to the internet, I checked with a google search and found that my original end-date of September 13 was in fact the partial solar eclipse I was thinking of. I confused it with the final total lunar eclipse of that year, which is the 23rd. Alas, this serves to demonstrate why I lose track of dates so easily. But at least now I have the time remaining until both, accurate to the day. :P

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New Poem! I'm Really Excited About This One

This poem's title is given without punctuation, because it can ambiguously be interpreted as a question or as a declarative statement. But read it for yourself and decide. It has a couple of distinct "motions," in which it addresses a person's private emotional pain and challenges you not to exaggerate how bad things are, and to not be naive and think that you're all alone. Moreover, it encourages you to have open lines of communication with the people around you so that they can help you and you won't suffer alone. Then the poem moves on to say that despite this, people can't always fix your problems for you. So how can you move on and leave the agony behind? The solution I give in this poem is to offer a change of perspective, and I hope that I managed to make it convincing, all while fitting the words into a complex rhyme scheme.

A note: the poem has 6 sets of four stanzas, where the first two are supposed to be read more slowly, and the second two are of a faster tempo. It would have potential to be a song, if it wasn't so enormously long! :) 

What’s Wrong

If I asked you, face to face, if life is good, if life is great
or if it’s empty, full of hate, and you wish you could just escape
would you answer truthfully?
or would the things you say to me
be self-serving lies?

If the life you now are living isn’t quite your heart’s desire
can you seek and find contentment, or do you want to set fire
to the things that irk you?
Did your friends desert you?
Have you wished to die?

Life, my friend, is not a zero-sum game
You get more out than what you put in
You might be surprised, but this life is the same
for the rest of us more than you think

Believe it or not, but you’re not the first one
to encounter a soul-crushing pain
As it was with your fathers, it shall be with your sons
Your story will be told again

You are not alone, you see, for others also suffer—
Uncles, friends, grandparents, siblings, fathers, aunts and mothers—
quietly, in agony.
You should not expect to see
what they’re going through.

Sympathy is what we gain when other people know our pain
but if they can’t get through to you, ‘midst all this constant, driving rain
that you pour out in angry shouts,
mumbles, grumbles, curses, bouts…
how can they help you?

Open your mouth and talk it out
Be honest and don’t exaggerate
People are ready to listen now
Don’t be a fool and choose to wait

Keeping it in doesn’t help anyone
Shouting and running is hurting you, son
I know that it sure must hurt a ton
but if you don’t quit it’ll never be done

Even if you find a friend, your hurt may seize you yet again
pierce your heart and make you fret, wondering “why won’t it end?”
And that’s because a helping hand
is not sufficient for a man
to overcome all things.

You are finite, don’t you know? That’s why you aren’t in control.
Your heart and mind and strength and soul are designated for a role
Which isn’t in your choice to choose.
But listen now, and hear the News—
the promise that He brings.

What’s wrong with you is what’s wrong with us all
It’s also the answer to why there is evil
It’s something our ancestors knew as the Fall
We foolishly trusted in mankind’s Deceiver

God gave us freedom to choose what is right
Choice is required in order to love
Instead of submitting, we all chose to fight
returning no love to our Father above

A life without God is what we all desired, and now we have all had a taste
Without God our lives are disastrously mired in suffering and weakness—it’s all such a waste!
Without God we would not exist
Neither would the pleasant bliss
we sometimes do enjoy

Perspective matters, and when you have seen that you are guilty, too
then there’s only one avenue to contemplate advancing through
And that’s to ask forgiveness
for your evil illness
from Father’s pride and joy.

What do you think was the reason He died?
It wasn’t just an emotive display
of how your Creator feels toward His child
He died for your debt to be paid

Your life isn’t perfect, so perfect men find
to offer their lives in your stead
If that can’t be done then you’re quite in a bind
The Judge will require your head

The thing you must realize, despite all your pain, ‘s that you don’t deserve any better
You’ve rejected all good things, and though it seems strange, you’re infinitely a debtor
Bad things happen for a reason
in and out of sundry seasons
How can you escape it?

A perfect man, with perfect life, can trade his in for yours tonight
But none such men can e’er be found, and that has long been mankind’s plight
How can we attain to heaven?
Even though we try forever
most of us mistake it

God became man so that He could die,
remained God so that He was perfect
and willingly died in the place of mankind
because only Jesus can earn it

Like all transactions, this one goes two ways
The offer’s been made but you must cash it in
God has decided to patiently wait
For as many as choose to, be freely forgiv’n

Choice’s the thing that makes us human, it’s our grandest gift and greatest curse
Our choices are what made us lose Him, His choice and ours can sin disperse
And when the burden lifts away,
our temporary struggles pale
in comparison

What’s wrong is more encompassing than little troubles all around
When you know the source of sin, th’ solution seems so easy found!
Death and pain will be displaced
We’ll one day, joining angels, praise
God in unison

Take heart, little brother, there’s a positive ending
to your story of grief, guilt, and shame
Let go of your anger, commence your heart’s rending
and bow down your head to the Name

I cannot promise that pain won’t continue—
in fact, the reverse is the truth—
but God takes the sting away when He walks with you
His Love is what I want for you.