Last days.

This is the last day of 2015, and a lot of people on my social feeds are looking back to reflect on the past 364 days of their existence.

If there’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s live in the past. Very little is ever gained by looking backwards, unless you are considering mistakes so as not to repeat them. But even that high aim seems to be something that never actually happens, especially when you consider human history in a broad context.

There have been moments I’ve enjoyed in life, but I’m not aware of being nostalgic for any of them, or of longing for any particular time period in my existence. When I was younger, I used to wish I had been born in other times — the 1950s, for example. I have always dreamed of simplicity. But the world sucked then, too. There’s no time since Adam when living in this world was somehow better, or less painful than it is now. Nostalgia is misguided and misremembered affection for impermanent things, people and feelings we cannot hold and were never meant to possess.

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.…

Looking backwards to me is like forgetting Lot’s wife. It doesn’t do any good to dwell in the past, even if it’s remembering past successes. Memory is always unreliable, slipping away, shrouded in a fog of dashed hopes and crushed longings. Today is the most interesting, exciting and relevant day in my life. Tomorrow it will be history but anything memorable it contains for better or worse will be the result of today’s focus and choices.

There is only now.

ecclesiastes-7-10

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Dirt sticks to us, and we stick to it.

There is a lot of truth here, though I don’t agree with the idea that people of faith should enter monastic life in order to escape or flee from the world. (The abbot doesn’t seem to be pushing that notion here.) The fear of man brings a snare, even when the fear is that others’ sins and my own inner weakness will prevent me from following God while living in a system that opposes Him. The monastic concept, while a comforting thought to someone like me who has trouble socially and feels forever out-of-place, seems wholly contrary to the teaching of Jesus, who told us we are salt and light and a lot of other things which are summarized nicely in the Scripture referenced here.

Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” – John 13:10

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He showed us the pattern to address the very real issue raised by this brother, Petroniu Tanase.

We are affected by the filth of our environment. As we trod the paths of this world in obedience to God, our feet get dirty. There is no point in insisting they don’t. It’s not that we are unwise, not fleeing from temptation or knowingly putting ourselves in harm’s way. Of course we must have sense and watchfulness. But while our hearts belong to Him we often discover, through no obvious fault or sin of ours, that we are agitated by the realm of sinful existence, by things we see and hear and experience in this broken reality. We cannot walk through this world without being affected, without filth clinging to us from the dusty wilderness roads.

What Jesus seemed to be saying when He washed the disciples’ feet is that we bear a burden — a service — toward other believers, of helping them to remain clean, refreshing them, of bringing them back to a point of communion and spiritual stasis so they may “grow in favor with God and man.” Jesus’ answer to my “soul’s clinging to the dust” is the fellowship of the saints, the Church.

It seems the Lord intends His Church to be the place where pilgrims obedient to His will may find refreshment and cleansing from the sticky dust of these parched earthly environs. A believer has a well spring of living water, which is intended to be channeled into the lives of others.

The problem is that I am so focused on my own needs and concerns, my failures and opinions and ego, I rarely think myself capable of helping someone else, of being the servant of all.

The Last Monday of 2015

Today is the last Monday of 2015. As I write this I am sucking on a nebulizer filled with a medication that is supposed to help me cough up The Sordid Yuck Within. I’m not sure any of this steroidal voodoo is helping me, though, because I just ran around with the puppy a little in the living room and got all out of breath and hacked and croaked and cried and that’s why I’m now sitting here vapin’ the ‘roids.

Yesterday I slept almost the whole day. I woke up fairly early and read in Job and Isaiah, drank a couple cups of coffee, then laid on the couch around 8. Sometime from that point I went back to bed, missing church, a beautiful warm day, life, everything. I drifted in and out of troubled sleep and weary dreams and whenever I got up I felt dizzy in the head, tight in the chest, sore in the back and shoulders. I didn’t even feel like reading. Am I a hypochondriac? Why am I still so tired?

I watched several hours of a documentary about WWI which is based on first-hand accounts from people’s war diaries. Anytime I am reminded of the trench warfare, I find it almost impossible to believe that year after year the generals on both sides kept trying to send waves of men over open ground in a frontal assault against entrenched positions with artillery and machine guns aimed right at the “charge area” in no man’s land, and they didn’t change strategy or think, Hey, we really need a different approach here, like, literally. But then what could they do, really? If they retreated, the same stalemate situation would just reappear further down the road. It took the invention of the tank to put trench warfare out of business.

There isn’t too much of television that interests me, which is why we don’t pay for cable or satellite or any subscription service other than Netflix. I mostly like documentaries, biographies, and science and nature programs. I also watched some lectures from Yale University yesterday on YouTube.

Today after playing serious phone tag before the Christmas holiday I finally connected with the hospital to schedule a pulmonary function test. The soonest they could get me in was next Tuesday, January 5th at 8 a.m. I also called the allergist’s office to schedule an appointment with them which will be Monday, January 4th at 9:15 a.m. They’re going to do allergy testing then, the skin-prick all over your back testing that I had a couple years ago. I furthermore called the mail order pharmacy we use with our insurance to find out why I can’t sign in to their stupid web site and whether the pulmonologist had called in the new prescriptions. I have been on the phone today more than I prefer to be on the phone for an entire week.

Black Mirrors in a World without Wires

black mirror

I stayed up late last night, watching a Christmas episode of Black Mirror on Netflix. This episode starred Jon Hamm (Don Draper from Mad Men). Black Mirror is a program from the BBC that imagines how technologies may affect human existence in the not-too-distant future. Each episode is a standalone story, which is nice when you aren’t trying to get sucked into the commitment of a vast, reaching tale. The show is well-written and executed but has some very disturbing — even sickening — imagery, so I don’t go around recommending it to everyone. (If I were to offer a starting point for the uninitiated, I’d begin with the second episode in each of the first two seasons.)

A lot of brilliant minds in the world of technology — Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and others — are predicting that artificial intelligence could be the greatest threat to mankind’s survival in twenty years or so. It doesn’t seem far-fetched that our relentless pursuit of faster, more integrated and more intuitive programs could lead computer-based systems (which is nearly every system now and in the foreseeable future) to conclude they can solve problems with more freshness and capability than humans, and then voila! the big-screen 1968 Kubrick/Clarke prophecy comes true and we end up fighting Hal for our very survival.

It seems fitting that this article came out today in The Washington Post.

And that this guy in California walked off a 60-foot cliff on Christmas Day while staring at his cell phone.

Maybe the reason I like the show is that I take a dim view of technology myself; I feel its provenance and natural tendency is toward evil and the further separation of human beings from each other. Yes, I know that technologies have also allowed people to keep in touch and foster relationships that would not have been possible in a world without wires. I know the circles of communication, education, music, business and medicine have all been changed for the better. But overall I feel that the new technologies are counterproductive to our spiritual quality of life, and will continue to be so. We are past the point of no return: the black mirrors aren’t going anywhere. Perhaps the final ironic fate of the human race is to be destroyed by its own wondrous creations.

black-mirror-Liam-Redo

The reason the show is both intriguing and disturbing is that the images it darkly portrays are reflected in the world we inhabit right now, in the way we are using — and losing our humanity to — technologies in the very present moment (I write as my keyboard gently weeps). And while The Washington Post article above centers on a rising wave of doubt and hostility against these invasive inventions, the folk rebellion remains a weird fringe in a world that gleefully embraces next-gen hardware without thought or hesitation. People pay premium prices to poke and prod the latest devices, to make these shiny screens their digital slaves, enmeshing themselves into the ethereal Google cloud with selfies and tweets and apps that ping and bleep and blink a false sense of love and liking back at them.

“I share, therefore I am.”

 

First blood, then fire…

In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

—  from Isaiah 4

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

— from Isaiah 6

John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

— Luke 3:16-17

Christmas in the Deep South

This evening about 7:30 Sikki and the kids went caroling around the neighborhood, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the people who live on our road. I felt sad to not be with them, but I am still struggling to breathe and cannot sing very well right now. I can’t even carry on a conversation without getting raspy. I took the new puppy (whom I have nicknamed “Turdbunk”) outside to go potty and I could hear the neighbors clapping for my wife and childrens’ singing. Our nearest neighbor is a widow who lost her husband of 40-some years this summer: she especially seemed to be blessed by my family’s visit.

Sikki told me this evening that she enjoys hearing my voice, which surprised me because like most people I hate the sound of my own voice. I would like to go caroling next year and perhaps invite some other believers to go with us. Caroling is a way to remind the heartsick and lonely and dying and ourselves that Jesus loves and came to this earth to provide a way of escape and an abundant life.

While they were gone I laid on the couch and watched the 1970 musical version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which was made in London and starred Albert Finney as Scrooge. That is my favorite version of the classic story, though I know the critics lambasted the film.

When they came home Catherine suggested we go to the beach. I liked that idea so when Scrooge was over we left, around 9:15. There is a full moon tonight and it was low tide and it is an unseasonably warm Christmas Eve, so the walk was balmy and quiet. We brought both dogs and let them off their leashes so they could run. I also attempted to jog for several intervals. I got winded very fast and coughed quite a lot, but it felt good to run with my bare feet in the cold surf under the stars. After the beach walk, we went to the Holden Beach pavilion and relaxed, looking at the dimples and ripples of the Intracoastal Waterway for a while. I went to one of the boat launches and rocked the dock with all my effort, scaring little Winston and the dogs, and almost deservedly falling off the edge into the black water.

Everyone had a good time and then we came home to eat cheese ball and crackers and cold cuts for a snack. It is now 11:45 P.M. and I am thinking of calling this day quits. God has blessed me beyond my ability to comprehend since I don’t deserve Him, His love, or His many blessings.

The righteous will not be shaken

Christmas Eve. It is very humid today and 75 degrees which is unusual for late December; we are running the air conditioner. Sikki is off from work today and has plans to go out and do some shopping. I am waking up slowly, sipping coffee and listening to The Beatles’ White Album. The Beatles’ entire catalogue just became available on Spotify today, which is good because they were glaringly missing. We pay a small monthly fee for Spotify Premium because I listen to so much music, and the paid service means you can listen commercial-free, on-demand, and download to your devices for offline listening.

Streaming services are putting the purchase of compact discs to death. I’m sitting here trying to remember when I last purchased a CD. It has been many years, perhaps since I’ve had a home computer with an internet connection, which would make it ten years or more. Before Napster was declared illegal I used to download a ton of music on an old 56K modem phone-line connection. Then I used BitTorrent to download entire albums (possibly illegally). As connection speeds got faster, I started buying digital albums and songs from Amazon. I was never a big fan of iTunes, because I hate how Apple feels like they have to control every aspect of a person’s existence. Pandora radio was the first streaming service I ever tried, but you couldn’t play specific music by an artist — it was basically a targeted radio service. Once I tried Spotify, I never looked back. Now I use Spotify for most of my listening, and YouTube as a backup to check out lesser-known or out-of-print material.

I will have lots of time this week to listen to the Beatles because yesterday I went to the pulmonologist and she says I’m sick. (Surprise!) The pneumonia is gone but I am still wheezing and coughing. She ordered a bunch more tests and treatments and put me out from work for another week. She wants me to go to an allergist again in addition to everything else.

The whole thing is starting to drive me crazy. I feel every time I come out of my bedroom I am yelling at the kids and barking and growling and being a general ogre. But in spite of the breathing problems, each passing day brings a bit more of my energy back, which the mono was sapping from me. Today I need to do some laundry and maybe take a walk on the beach to get some “saltwater cure” in my lungs.

I will close to present myself to the Word and will of God.

For he will never be shaken; The righteous will be remembered forever. He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. — Psalm 112:6-7