Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

A Desk

October 15, 2019

I inherited a very nice office when I accepted my current Call.  A large, dark wood desk with an accompanying side piece – I don’t even know what to call it – that has another large flat surface as well as cabinets above.  Both pieces have large, deep drawers with plenty of hanging file space.

It’s a beautiful desk – though I rarely see it because of my clutter.  I rally every so often to clear away the ministerial detritus which accumulates there naturally layer by layer.  There is a great – if fleeting – satisfaction to seeing the top of my desk.

But even as I admire it, I recognize it is not an ideal desk.  It is very much a desk of a different age, before the proliferation of devices and cables.  Phone and computer cords trail off of it in a rather unappealing fashion.  I could rearrange my office layout somewhat to compensate, but I don’t really care about it that much.  The multi-outlet surge protector lays on the floor beside it, also relatively unappealing aesthetically.

A desk for today would have options for cable management so they aren’t trailing across the top of it like anorexic octopuses.  It might even have a place for the surge protector to be mounted underneath, reducing cables across the floor.  And while large file drawers are still helpful, in this age of digital storage it seems somewhat superfluous.

It isn’t that the desk is bad.  It’s a good desk that accomplishes good things.  But it shows it’s age.  Not in terms of how it looks, but rather the functions it does and doesn’t incorporate.  The fact that wires and power outlets are more important these days than file folders doesn’t mean the desk was bad for its time, but rather a demonstration of how many things we take for granted also adapt in subtle or not so subtle ways to changing environments.

I was talking with a parishioner a few months ago who is trying to divest himself of his now-deceased mother’s furniture.  Lovely, sturdy, probably hand-made.  And yet despite being well-kept and lovely, he’s had almost zero interest in it.  Folks are more inclined to order something new and sleek off of Amazon, or take a trip to the nearest IKEA mega-store to pick up something full of contemporary functionality – even though it will never last as long as his mother’s furniture.  I love my desk, but the fact that I love it may not mean anyone else will.  They think of desks differently perhaps than I do.  We use the same word but have slightly different ideas in mind.

It isn’t that people are going to quit needing desks.  But they are going to look for different features in desks, and desks will increasingly adapt themselves to those needs and wants.  It shouldn’t compromise the core purpose and identity of a desk.  It isn’t as though desks will quit featuring flat tops to work on.  It wouldn’t be a desk any more!  But in other ways manufacturers will increasingly figure out and incorporate ancillary preferences and needs.  In the process, looks will change, although I have no doubt there is very fine, traditional-looking office furniture that provides for cable and power management and other modern niceties.

It’s probably time to clean my desk off again.  Time to admire the classic lines and finish.  I’m willing to deal with the minor inconveniences, but  I know others might not be.  I just have to keep that in mind, should I ever decide I want or need a new desk and want to sell this one.

Income Disparity!

October 14, 2019

When I was a kid, we couldn’t afford to purchase school lunches.  Every day I brought my lunch to school in a pretty cool lunch box.  My preferred sandwich was peanut butter and jelly.  I ate that pretty much every school day for lunch from as far back as I can remember to sometime probably in late high school when I started working and could afford to – from time to time – eat out.

I never really gave this much thought.  Some people could afford to buy school lunches, just like some people – once we hit junior high and high school age – could afford to buy shakes and french fries and other luxuries for lunch.  It was a reality of my life.  Yes, it meant I wasn’t part of the in crowd (although there were plenty of other, non-economic reasons why I would never be invited into that hallowed clique).  I learned to deal with that.  As generations of kids did before me and after me.

Yet politicians today are outraged that not everyone can afford to buy school lunches.  Or some people sign their kids up for them but then fall behind in their payments, racking up debts with the school.  This has apparently been handled up till now by those children getting a “cheaper, alternative” lunch.  And this stigmatizes them.  They stick out from their peers who can afford the pricier lunches, or can afford to have the luxury of choosing what they want to eat for lunch instead of just having something handed to them.

Note that everyone is getting a lunch.  But some get to choose what they have for lunch while others are denied a choice, or their choice is less desirable.

So our state has decided to eliminate the stigma for these children by assuring that all kids – whether their parents can afford to pay their lunch debts off or not – get the same lunch.  No mention is made in the article about how this decision will be paid for.  I presume it will be paid for with yet another sob-story appeal to the voters about how the school systems can’t make ends meet and need more money in taxes and bonds to ensure all children receive a quality education.

Seems as though education is in order, indeed.

Starting with the hard, cold reality – both present and historical – that some people make more than others.  Some people have more than others.  In my studies of history, this has always been the case.  Even including efforts at socialism and communism in the 20th century, a basic fact of life is that some people are always going to be a little better off than others.  Or a lot.  Whether they’re supposed to be or not.  That’s the way life works.

Yet news stories today present this as though it’s some sort of newly discovered corruption in our society.  Did you know that some people can afford to buy portable generators when faced with possible power outages?  Did you know this is evidence of income disparity?!  Wait – you mean some people live paycheck to paycheck?  How is it that reporters and politicians are so surprised by this?  For pretty much all of my life, myself and the vast majority of people I’ve known live more or less paycheck to paycheck.  We don’t have vast sums of money in the bank.  Sometimes we have a little more.  Sometimes a little less.

But we live in a country founded on the principle that if you worked hard, you could improve your situation.  You might start out with not much, but you could try to do better.  It wasn’t handed to you.  It wasn’t paid for by other people.  But you had the chance to try and improve your lot in life.  Generations of people have done just that.  Millions of people from around the world have undertaken great risk and expense to come to our country because of that principle.  And many, many, many of them have found that principle isn’t just a nice marketing gimmick.  It’s true.  They’re witnesses to it, and that reality is what continues to fuel the desire to come to our country.

That’s not good enough for our politicians, apparently.

Maybe more of them needed to bring their lunches to school.  Maybe more of them needed to deal with the fact that some people don’t eat fancy lunches every day at school.  Some people don’t wear the latest designer fashions to school every day.  Some people aren’t invited to the cool parties and hang out with the popular kids every day.  That income disparity is just one of the pervasive realities of life, and despite good (or bad) intentions to the contrary, is amazingly difficult (or impossible) to eliminate.

Now that lunches are free, I guess we can move on to mandating a fashion fund so kids with parents who can’t afford to shop at all the cool stores aren’t stigmatized by having to wear off-brand clothing.  Maybe another fund to help poor families buy nicer cars so they don’t stand out when they’re dropping off and picking up junior from school.  The list could go on and on.

Life is not fair.  Not in income and not in a stunning variety of other ways.  Kids can be very cruel, it’s true.  And if it isn’t school lunches, it will be something else where they demonstrate this truth generation after generation.

Because the real issue isn’t school lunches or portable generators or even income disparity as a whole.  The real problem, the real root of cruelty and social and economic stratification is sin.  Brokenness that can’t be legislated away.  Sin that can’t be taxed out of existence.  We have to be saved from it, but the government isn’t up to that task.  Never has been.  Isn’t now.  Never will be.  We can seek to make improvements, to be sure.  And I know that good intentions are at the basis of writing about income disparity and trying to give free lunches to everyone.  But what we really need is a God willing to enter into our world to save us from the sin we can’t always see and sometimes don’t want to get rid of, as well as the sin we’d be happy to do without.  Jesus has done this.  My state – or Federal – government can’t.  They can’t fix the level of brokenness that leads to hurt feelings and social stigmatization.  At best, they can try to give away more free lunches.

But that’s something I learned in school as well, along with the fact that some people have more money than others.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch in this world.  Somebody, somewhere, always pays.

Final Words

October 9, 2019

I found this a fascinating article made perhaps more interesting being published close to the start of a new year, a time many people probably don’t associate with death but rather ideas about the future.  It’s a fascinating topic to me – what people say when close to death.  Although I’m frequently around people close to death, I don’t spend the long periods of time at their bedside necessary in order to garner a feel for the things they tend to say.

I was surprised that the reference to the only real extant study of what people say before death is available to read free online, and it’s very short – not a book but a rather short article published in 1921 in the American Journal of Psychology.  One of the interesting observations (assertions?) in this article is that The general consensus of opinion based upon the experience of all ages is that the dreadfulness of death and its physical pain are for the most part in the imagination (p.553).  In other words, dying is easier than we think it is.  And also this quote – In a way, the conduct and last words of those facing death are a mental and moral test of their real character (p.553). The data this article is built around is somewhat more perfunctory and less descriptive than I would have liked, but to each his own!

The Atlantic author enjoys the book he’s reviewing, but his bias shows through, whether it’s his ready attribution of the author’s father’s comments about angels and other unseen personas as hallucination (although to be fair, this might be how the author herself describes it), as well as a slight disdain that the author is interested in the afterlife.  Regardless, based on this review I hope to read Lisa Smartt’s book as well, though it may be a while before I can get to it and review it firsthand!

 

Weekly Devotion – October 7, 2019

October 9, 2019

Ruth 1:1-19a

It’s easy to romanticize the Biblical stories and characters, to take them out of our world, our history, our humanity and place them in a stylized display case. Polished. Perfect. Their lessons of faithfulness in God completely cut off from how we deal with things in our lives.

There’s very little romantic in Ruth’s story but a great deal tragic. She loses her father-in-law, husband, and brother-in-law. She has no idea what her life might hold, but she has no reason to presume it’s going to be blessed or beautiful in any substantive way. She clings to Naomi, but without any assurance this might turn out to be a wonderful and amazing gift from God. God was faithful to Ruth and chose to work through her in a very special way which Ruth was not privy to in advance. Ruth had to trust God would be with her as she finished the slow trek to a foreign country and culture with her mother-in-law, but had no idea what that would substantively look like.

As we go through difficult times in our lives it’s easy to assume God must show us the solution, give us a sneak preview of how it’s all going to turn out, and that it’s unreasonable to continue operating in ‘blind’ faith when all worldly hope seems gone. I’ve worked with more than a few Christians who question or turn on God when things in their lives don’t turn out exactly the way they want. But this hurts! But this isn’t fun! But this is hard! Sometimes this is true. Much like it was for Ruth.

Yet the essence of faith is a trust in God beyond the moment to what lies ahead. Whether this means a new hope in this life or eternal life is up to God, not us. Yet we can know God is faithful, and has secured our lives in him eternally through faith in the death and resurrection of the Son of God on our behalf. If Ruth had turned back home, she would never have found the grace of God at work in her life in the same enduring way. Yet by persevering in her faith despite the uncertainties of what lay ahead, we are reading about her today, nearly 3500 years later! We are encouraged by her example of what faith looks like – pressing on with God rather than turning away when things get difficult, expecting we will see his faithfulness played out in ways we could never have predicted or imagined.

Weekly Devotion

September 25, 2019

Weekly Devotion – September 23, 2019

Luke 10:17-20

A few decades ago, angels were everywhere.

An explosion of angel-mania erupted on bumper stickers, t-shirts, bookmarks, book covers, figurines and most any other conceivable place. Fueled in part perhaps by popular Christian books like This Present Darkness, Christians were equally swept up in this fever, proud perhaps that something Christian was receiving so much secular attention. In other situations, these angels were hardly Scriptural. Removed from a larger context, they became little more than good luck tokens or lucky charms comforting thoughts to get people through the day.

But the goal of the follower of Christ is not just to get through the day, but to get to heaven! Jesus points this out to his disciples, who are understandably caught up in excitement over the things they have witnessed and performed in Jesus’ name. But these are not what should excite us, Jesus clarifies. What should bring us greatest joy is not just to get through the day, not even to command demons to submit in Jesus’ name, but rather the knowledge of the death and resurrection of the Son of God on our behalf. His resurrection, ascension and promised return should be our greatest joy as followers of Christ because through our faith and trust in his works, we have eternal life! Our names are written in heaven. God knows us not just as his creations but as part of his Son’s body, the Church.

What greater source of comfort or hope could their be beyond the atoning work of Jesus and the ongoing presence of the very Holy Spirit of God? To be sure, angels are real and do their God-appointed work among us. Sometimes we are privileged to get a glimpse of this. But what matters most of all is the God who created both angels and humans, and who has provided a way of forgiveness and grace for a humanity enslaved to sin and Satan. What a blessing to know the great sacrifice of God the Son was made for you! And as you trust in this, you receive eternal life, something that begins here and now not just once we’re dead!

Give thanks that we are not alone, that God’s angels are around us, but never let that reality distract you from the faith in Jesus Christ that grants peace and joy here and now and for eternity!

Weekly Devotional

September 12, 2019

September 10, 2019

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

– Luke 14:26 –

We’ve all wondered about this verse. How can the God who gave us all of these blessings, these wonderful people and our life itself call us to hate them? Doesn’t the Fourth Commandment call us to honor our fathers and mothers? Is Jesus contradicting himself as the Word of God?

The quick explanation is that these people can be idols. We can make them more important in our lives than God. We can allow them to sway us from living the way the Holy Spirit calls us to. We might even be tempted to forsake worship or study or other aspects of our lives in Christ in order to keep the peace at home or demonstrate love for these people.

Many Christians would be equally quick to say they would never let this happen. They would never let someone else come between themselves and God and become idols. All well and good and true, I think. Except I’m not sure we really think about how these people could become idols. We aren’t going to make gold or silver statues of them. We aren’t going to worship them. When we make them tea for breakfast or dinner at night, this is not the same as offering food to an idol or a false god. This is how we think idols look and act in themselves and in our lives.

I suspect differently.

Elie Wiesel in his haunting book Night describes in multiple places how his experience living through the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis destroyed his faith and trust in God. Seeing the worst mankind could do to one another, and not seeing God step in to stop, to rescue, to save (at least not in the way Wiesel thought He should) meant for Wiesel that God could not exist. Not a good, loving, trustworthy God. Faced with the blackest sinfulness in mankind, Wiesel could no longer hold on to his faith in the God of the Bible. For Wiesel, apparently, the people around him and his own life were an idol he could not let go of in order to cling to God.

We do not have to be the victims of mass genocide to sympathize with him. How many of us have watched a loved one die, sometimes in great pain, and wondered where God is in that moment? A fleeting wondering. How many of us have wondered at one point or another why God continues to sustain our life when we are more than ready to leave, to be with our departed loved ones again, to finally have peace in eternal glory? Is that idle desire idolatrous?

It could be, if we allow it to grow. If we indulge it rather than returning to the Word of God in our lives and experiences, the Word that does not promise us an easy life or a painless life, but promises the eternal presence of God in and through these things. If we are unable to maintain the clear perception that the existence of sin and the sickness and death that spring from it are part of creation for now, the reason the Son of God came into creation in the first place, to rescue us and save us. If we reject the comforting words of God in favor of our pain and bitterness and indignation. Then these loved ones can become the idols that separate us from God.

Keep the gifts of God as that – gifts, not idols. And trust above all in the love of God through Jesus the Christ in those moments of suffering and loss, the assurance these pains are transitory. Dawn is coming.

Book Review: A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World

September 9, 2019

A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World by Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller

I ordered this thinking it was a spin on Foxe’s Book of Martyr’s, perhaps updated a bit, or some other form of martyrology.  It is not.  There are accounts of five martyrs in the book, the most recent being the third century and the oldest being the account of St. Stephen in Acts 7.  Although it is billed as a starting theological text for the curious, it is really more of a devotional.  Around the unifying theme of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, each section begins with the account of a martyr and then contains several short devotionals or homilies.

They’re probably very good.

But I’m not very good at reading them.  It’s a default in my character, that very rarely will a devotional from someone else stir me.  I’m grateful that they exist, aware that a great many people – perhaps everyone else but me – really enjoys them and gets a lot out of them.  I don’t.

So I’m not going to evaluate this book.  The devotionals I did read (the first 4-5) were very fine.  They are theologically oriented, asking the reader to consider various theological aspects of the parable of the sower.  And it is well-grounded in Lutheran theology.   Lord knows we all need more inspiration and grounding in our lives of faith, and this may be a wonderful resource for you.

Honesty

September 6, 2019

I like honesty.

I say that fully admitting that I am incapable of it.  That in the entire history of the human race there have only been three people perfectly capable of it and two of them threw that ability away pretty much right out of the starting gate.  None of the rest of us can be perfectly, absolutely honest all of the time.  But we can try, and trying makes all the difference sometimes.

And for me the hallmark of honesty is the willingness, the humility to admit that you might be wrong.  That you might be deceived yourself or trying to deceive others.  If there is that humility there is room for discussion.  Room to really hear other people and really be heard by others.  If there isn’t that humility, there is no discussion and ultimately there can’t be growth.

I like intellectual honesty, grappling with reality as we know it and experience it and trying to make sense of it.  I’m reading Justin Martyr’s First Apology, and I love his willingness to tackle the prejudices and ideas of his day head on with the assumption that truth can be found and honesty will lead to that truth.  He wasn’t afraid to present a demand for honesty to the Roman Emperor himself and all those who claimed or desired to be purveyors of intellectual honesty.  Justin was convinced that Christianity and the Bible could fare well in that sort of encounter.

But we have to recognize that in these confrontations Christianity is a threat to other people.  It threatens what they know or believe, or what they prefer to know or believe.  It threatens these things by insisting that there is an objective truth and reality that can be known and that knowing is life-changing.  Not simply an intellectual assent to a propositional statement but something that penetrates to the very heart and spirit of us to transform us.  To bring life from death.  So it’s a threat.

This morning I met with a young man in an addiction recovery program.  We’ve been meeting for three weeks  or so now, each week, as part of the program’s option to provide clients with a spiritual mentor.  While I don’t like the title, I’m willing to spend time with guys who want to search out the spiritual aspect of their recovery and lives further.  More honestly.

After several weeks of running around in philosophical circles about what can or can’t be known, as he was preparing to get out of my car today he said I think I want Christianity to be untrue, or I want to convince myself it isn’t a reasonable option because it would challenge my identity, and I don’t know what I’ll have to give up if I accept it as true.

Honesty.

A recognition that  the call to follow Christ is a call to self-denial.  A call to transformation.  A call to allow God to use us as He chooses rather than as we prefer.  A call to fully acknowledge the depth of our depravity and brokenness, that we might better praise and exalt the God who delivers us up and out of these things.

The Gospel reading for Sunday is Luke 14:25-35.

Jesus clearly does not understand our influencer social media culture.  Here he is with thousands of people following him and hanging on his every word.  Imagine how rich he could have become with a few well-placed product placements!  But instead, Jesus’ response is to turn around and challenge those people.  Do you really want to follow me?  Because following me is going to cost you everything.  Are you willing to give it all up?  Are you willing – more accurately – to live as though it isn’t yours in the first place? 

I think many Christians think this sacrifice comes when they enter the faith, which for many means as an infant.  I think many Christians presume there won’t be any further sacrifices demanded of them.  That they are entitled to live the rest of their lives more or less like the larger culture.

But Jesus’ words directly contradict this.  Because if we’re going to be honest about who we are as fallen and sinful creatures, we have to embrace a humility, a recognition that we might be wrong on any given matter and therefore open to being guided.  Open to growth and learning.  Conviction is fine – I’m convinced of the truth of the Bible and the real identity of Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnate Son of God who defeated the powers of sin, death, and Satan on my behalf through his death and resurrection.  Being humble and listening doesn’t mean everything is up for grabs.  But it should mean I’m listening.  That I’m willing to engage in the discussion like Justin Martyr or Josh this morning.  And that I’m understanding that this may lead to changes in me personal.  How I like to think of myself.  The things I enjoy.  Even some of my convictions.

It may, in fact, lead not to the general approval of the people around me but to my death.  Don’t think Jesus’ use of the cross is metaphorical or symbolic.  His hearers knew all too well what the cross meant, as did Jesus.  And we are called to that level of humility, if necessary.  To being branded a criminal when we are not, as Justin Martyr insisted.  On being convicted by an unfair double-standard, as Justin pointed out.  To suffering and dying in acceptance not of the truth as stated by our world, but as defined by God, as Justin ultimately was willing to do.

Sometimes I think Christians are more willing to embrace and affirm the idea of martyrdom rather than be open to the possibility of the Holy Spirit changing their opinions about things here and now, in the safety of their own routines and lives.  Then again, theoretical martyrdom is far more romantic and exotic than the unpleasant business of dealing with other people.

I pray for honesty.  For the blinders to be revealed and removed whenever and wherever necessary from my eyes.  I pray that knowing full well it might be highly uncomfortable.  And so when I pray for that kind of honesty and engagement for and from others, it hopefully isn’t under the assumption that I’ll get what I want that way.  But Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:15)

Clashing Worlds

August 15, 2019

She is very young.

In the language of today, which must constantly judge and categorize, she would undoubtedly be called privileged.  Sheltered.  But that is to some extent the condition of the young.  And here she is on the other side of the ocean from her home, interning in the court system in our town for a few weeks as part of her course of study in law in her home country.

She arrived home harried, which is not uncommon, but also agitated.  Today I went someplace I never want to go again.  I guessed where she had been before she revealed it – the jail.

Not as an inmate, but as an observer.  Her first time in a jail, and the first time is always overwhelming in one fashion or another.  It was terrible, she said.  It’s easy to know what the law says and know that if I break the law I could go to jail.  But people think they won’t get caught, won’t go to jail, and if they do, it won’t be that bad.  But it’s bad.  It’s terrible.  

I think back over my many years ministering in jails.   Yes, it’s bad.  But what you learn over time is that there are worse places.  That for some, three squares a day and a bed and a shower and a lot of regiment are just what they need.  Far better than the uncertainty of addiction or crime.  But that first time, well, the first time you simply know it’s terrible.

And by extension, you know the people there are terrible.

Why else would they be there, right?  For all the media talk about misjustice and injustice and all manner of very serious and very real issues, the vast majority of the people behind bars are there for very sound, real, good reasons.  Most of them will admit this to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s easy to see only the crime and not the person.  Probably as easy as seeing the person without seeing the crime.  And of course there is a tension between the two, a relationship to be acknowledged, a dance that must be completed and hopefully not repeated.

She gathers her dinner plate.  Mostaccioli and salad and toasted garlic cheese bread.  We’re eating out back on the patio tonight.  It’s cooler than inside and we have three extra guests tonight.  Three women, at least one if not all three who were at some point or other – perhaps very recently – in jail.

Repeatedly.

Addiction does that.

But they are gathered for dinner at our house tonight because for the time being they are working very hard to beat the odds and their addictions in hopes of a life free from jail in the future.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.  A statuesque blonde.  A young Hispanic woman with beautiful long straight hair, though she looks with admiration at the naturally curly hair of my wife and daughter.  All three of them laughing and carrying on together like girls and women do together, enjoying food and the cool evening air.

I wonder what she would say if she knew.  Knew that but for a glitch of timing she might have met these ladies in jail, in that terrible place with terrible people who have done terrible things to themselves and others.  Her  disgust and disdain are palpable, but she’s happily engaged speaking in another language with one of our resident guests.  She doesn’t know.

I pray that as she enters the field of law she will be able to walk the difficult tightrope of never forgetting the law but also never forgetting the people.  That she will remember that ultimately our hope is not merely punitive but restorative, and that her faith – however perfunctory it may or may not be – will guide her to give  both thanks and praise to the Creator.  The God who created her in her youthful inexperience, as well as the people in the jails and prisons of our world.  People who perhaps need to be there, but hopefully don’t have to be there forever.  I pray that she never loses hope that lessons can be learned, debts to society can be repaid, lives restored, and glory given not to the magistrates or parole boards or wardens but to the God who alone has the power and will to restore life from death, hope from ashes.

And I pray that if she can be sustained on that tightrope, she won’t be adverse to sitting down with people she may have been required to put in jail at one point or another, in anticipation of an eternal feast where our places are guaranteed not by the purity of our lives but by the grace of our Creator through his Incarnate Son, who pays the penalty for our sin that we might be set free.

We Are What We Are

July 31, 2019

I drive a 14-year old vehicle.  It’s been paid off now for a couple off years which helps make ends meet in our expensive little community, but it has the quirks and oddities of any mechanical device that old, let alone one as complex as an automobile.  Most recently, the retracting radio antennae no longer retracts, perhaps because it partially melted and fused into place during a recent sojourn  in Las Vegas for the world billiards tournament.

These things happen.  Things age.  You can’t expect a 14-year old car to function like a brand new one.  It would be foolish to think that somehow a vehicle – or any other thing – could remain independent of it’s actual age.  It’s a reality brought home to me more  and more, as some of my other possessions – particularly books – begin to show their age.  This was brand new when I bought it, but despite hardly being read, the pages are yellowing and the binding is cracking!  Duh.  I bought it brand new 30 years ago.  Things age because  they are what they are.

People are no different, though I think popular cultural mantras try to tell us otherwise.  There’s this idea – perhaps I shared it when I was younger – that we can objectively critique reality and ourselves and those around us.  We can isolate ourselves from what we are and objectively judge reality.

But the reality is that we can’t.  We are what we are, and part of what we are is a product of our time.  We may like that or not.  We may think about it or not.  But it’s true.

Since the radio antenna is stuck on, I turned on the radio today and sought out a station that would have made me shudder 30 years ago.  I turned on the 80’s station.  I hated 80’s  music when I was in the 80’s.  Mostly because it was popular and I saw myself at odds with everything popular and fashionable – mostly because I was neither.  But now, I seek out that station.  I hum along with Duran Duran and even Culture Club, despite hating them in the 80’s.  There is nostalgia there now, and comfort.  I’m a product of the 80’s,  when I came of age and became aware of the artistic culture around me.  I can’t change that.  I can be ashamed of it, I can embrace it, but I can’t divorce myself of it.  When I try, I end up sounding stupid.

Like this article.

I watched this show somewhat when it came out.  Growing up on reruns of the original Star  Trek series, I thought this basically did a good job of picking up the mantle and carrying on while trying to do so in original ways.  Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t.  Not all the episodes were great, but they were overall enjoyable.

So this article is annoying and naive.  It critiques the series by and large for aesthetic issues related to when the series was made – the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It presumes that somehow the series should have been able to create an atmosphere completely disassociated from current cultural norms and trends.  As though the show could be or represent something other than what it  was – a group of actors and writers and designers and producers who were influenced not only by the original series but by their culture at the time.

One can like or dislike aspects of the culture, but to critique the culture for being the culture at the time is ridiculous, and to presume that it is possible to create something completely new and unaffected by current cultural fashions or ideas is arrogant.  We are what we are, and part of what we are is products of our culture,  even if we’d rather not be.

Not being God, we can’t create ex nihilo, out of nothing.  We can simply recombine things that already exist into other things.  This can be done in surprising and impressive ways, but it remains an act of creating from raw materials already there, so there will always be residue of what materials were available or plentiful or desired at the time.  And while I can lament that I seek out music I grew up on even when I grew up hating it, I’m reminded that I am formed and shaped even by the things I reject, and sometimes there is  comfort to be found there.

I’m considerably older than my car.  I shouldn’t expect myself to feel or be otherwise.  Hopefully I find a way to appreciate and enjoy who  and what I am now as I grow in my understanding and appreciation of the One who not only created me ex nihilo, but continues to shape and form me.