All posts by Phil W

If Sickness Is a Dream, Who Needs to Wake Up?

Pro Tip: If you need to adjust your stove eye, do it while the eye is off. Turning it on before adjusting it will only complicate the task.

I was able to watch Inception recently, because it came on Netflix. I enjoy that kind of thing, a deep dive into a single sci-fi concept. Not that it was a deep film or that it even touched on a deep idea. It was just fun–a heist film set in the dream world.

I gather some people took it to be a thoughtful reflection on the possibility that what we call reality is merely a dream or some massive deception. Descartes rejected that idea, preferring to believe he existed and could actually know something. Actually knowing something is kind of a big deal.

In Inception, characters constantly reviewed the rules of how the dreamscape worked: paradoxes, mental defenses, and how to invoke a dreamer to dream a new and deeper dream. Our dreams aren’t made like that. When I realize I’m dreaming, I also realize I can control things. If I see that I’m out in public and have left something, I can decide that I have it and there it is. In the movie, if they imagined they have bigger guns, they could use them. But tell the target he’s dreaming, and he can’t just slip down a rabbit hole and sit by the river until he wakes up.

In a dream, only what I perceive exists, and then, of course, there’s you. How are we all dreaming coherently together? But let’s stick with perception for a moment; many unperceived, even imperceivable, things have rearranged our lives for centuries. Shall we just roll over and wonder how this dream will end? That’s all we’re left with, if everything is a dream. We can’t study medicine, engineering, farming, or anything that produces something outside of our preferences if nothing is real.

The eye of my stove burned my fingers because the electric coil producing the heat is a reality outside of my perception. Had I turned the wrong switch I would have had heat in another eye and possibly wondered why my pan wasn’t warming up. That’s my perception at play in a real world.

Try to stay healthy, friends. And for the kids at home, remember the Lord who made you; that’s the start of good perception.

“Aerial America” on YouTube

Smithsonian Channel has also begun to roll out entire episodes on YouTube, and weekly online “watch parties” are planned to make the “Aerial America” viewing experience interactive despite social distancing. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. EST, Smithsonian Channel’s Facebook page will host state-specific trivia while showing an episode. Each episode will simultaneously drop on YouTube.”

It may not be Epcot’s Soarin’ ride, but it’s close and much longer. There are currently four episodes: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, and Arkansas.

What Are You Doing Sunday Mornings?

Our church cancelled our worship services three weeks ago, and we held our first live streamed service this morning. Prior to this our pastors distributed written sermons with discussion questions and our usual liturgy with supplementals that we could use on our own. I led my family through an ad hoc devotional time two weeks ago and followed the church material last week, which took far longer than I expected. We sang all the verses of all the songs, and my reading of the sermon with two breaks for questions took over an hour alone.

The streamed service this morning was comforting. I don’t need a familiar service in a familiar setting to get through the current crisis, but being together in a local body in whatever manner we can is a natural, grace-filled habit God has given us.

What are you doing? How are you making it through on your own or with your church?

With Easter coming in two weeks, I assume all of our plans will be rather low-key. Will we hear the gospel anew, stripped of the color and pageantry we’ve attached to the season? Will the world hear a different song than the one some of them think they know already?

Lord, have mercy on us.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

What You’re Feeling is Real, But maybe not What You Think it Is

People started talking about cabin fever the day after their mayor or governor directed them to shelter in place. Maybe they are the folks who rarely stay at home for anything, those who dash off to the store, the crab shack, the boardwalk, the open road–anywhere at the drop of a hat. (For the kids at home, “the drop of a hat” is an expression from the days when adults wore hats daily and dropped them on the sidewalk, taxi seat, or chaise lounge several times a day. At those times certain people would do that thing they would do and, you know.)

Now that most of us are working from home or at least staying at home more than we would have been, we may find ourselves more irritable than normal. We may act and react with emotions we didn’t expect, and because of that, we may not feel okay (insert tangentially related song).

Some of us don’t know what to do with our emotions, dismissing them as temporal fancies that should be reined in at every moment. Or wishing they could be. We take our emotions as improper bursts of energy or simply the way we express ourselves. We see no meaning behind our feelings.

Continue reading What You’re Feeling is Real, But maybe not What You Think it Is

Pastoral Yoda Tweeting: Wise You Think You Are, Do You?

If you’ve read any social media for long, you’ve run across the proverbial, possibly deep, possibly pithy statement from someone who wants to drop the truth on the world. When a Christian leader does this on Twitter, that’s called a pastor yoda tweet.

This isn’t the same as tweeting a quotation from a quotable writer, but it may be a statement made by one such quotable writer on his own account. He may even be quoted himself. Tim Keller quotes from his own books in an effort to say something strong that has a context that can been explored. Here are good examples of pastors and leaders who aren’t quoting themselves.

Ronnie Martin: “It has never not been our moment. #thechurchthatjesusbuilds”

Also Ronnie Martin: “A quiet, without a calm. These are times when ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’ is desperately needed for both personal comfort, and public compassion.”

Issac Adams: “A commitment to forbear with someone is a commitment, in no small part, to not pick nits.”

David Paul Tripp: “Today you face war, no, not with the people in your life, but a war of kingdoms, fought in your heart, that will not be fully settled until you’re on the other side.”

But of course there are those who would like to tweet proverbial wisdom and fail.

The Happy Rant guys have talked about good and bad tweeting a few times. Here’s one episode that talks about pastor yoda tweeting and also features a story about John Piper speaking to a crowd that completely misunderstood him. Here’s a recent one in which they worry about too much yoda tweeting.

Earlier this month, Taylor Burgess explained it well, “Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you’ve got to be at least 40 before you drop one of those ‘young pastor, [insert wise proverb]’ tweets. Err’body out here trying to be Yoda when most of us are Attack-of-the-Clones Anakin.”

Empty Streets

The last time Vegas shut down was Nov. 23, 1963 out of respect for the death of a president. Yesterday Nevada’s governor said they needed to shut down for thirty days. People had been staying home for a while anyway.

“You see all these massive buildings that are meant to have 10,000 people in them and no one is there,” one interactive gaming exec said.

That means gamblers will have to find other ways to, uh, invest, like, say, the weather. Bookies are taking bets on high temperatures in select cities, rainfall, and events on American Idol. Of course, other countries have sports too, so maybe we’ll see a spike in soccer interest.

Two major movie theater chains have closed until better health prevails. I just learned my local library will be closed until April 1; they are encouraging us to use their digital borrowing service, Hoopla. Perhaps the librarians won’t have to go on unpaid leave, like those of retailer Tattered Cover of Denver, one of the largest independent bookstores in the country.

We’re living in troubling times. I’ve seen more people walking through our neighborhood, but the warm weather could have inspired that. Three of us took that walk after sunset tonight. Dark, empty streets can be nice.

Keys to Mediocrity

“Only the mediocre are always at their best.”

Jean Giraudoux

Having different strengths as individuals, we will take different writing advice, uh, differently. Put that on a t-shirt.

Thinking of my own strengths, I can point to two solid words of writing advice that have helped me maintain the level of mediocrity you’ve come to expect from my posts on this blog.

  1. No dedicated writing space. By using this laptop and my tiny desk for many activities aside from occasional mediocre writing, I encourage distraction and my habitual multitasking. I may be a fairly gifted multitasker, actually. I get all kinds of stuff done. Not thoughtful blog posts that build an enduring readership, but tasks, man! tasks get done. With a dedicated space, one can mold physical habits to aid the dedicated task, so when I sit down to write, I actually write. Often I open the blogger, and all my thoughts sneak out the back.
  2. No writing notebook. I’ve used writing a notebook in the past for many things, including review notes on books I read. I don’t think going back to any of that would interest me today, but notetaking helped me think and remember observations far better than my current non-method. I’ve had a few good blogging ideas recently that were nowhere to be seen later in the day. When I first thought of this post, I thought I could rattle off these other ideas, but no, I don’t have any other ideas. I am a stranger to them.

Now, I’m on the loveseat with the laptop and Splatoon on the big screen: no distractions at all, words flowing like cold butter.

Speaking of multitasking, I’ve avoided social media for a few weeks and feel somewhat liberated. I’ve fueled their accounts with too much of my attention.

Photo by Marcelo Novais on Unsplash

The Dream I Knew

While still I may, I write for you
The love I lived, the dream I knew.
From our birthday, until we die,
Is but the winking of an eye

W.B. Yeats wrote fondly of his native Ireland and the pagan faerie roots he supposed it has. These lines from his poem, “To Ireland in the Coming Times,” published in 1893. Composer Thomas LaVoy arranged the last stanza into this choral piece, performed by The Same Stream.

I cast my heart into my rhymes,
That you, in the dim coming times,
May know how my heart went with them.

Living in Fantastic Times

We have the privilege of living in a time when contemporary authors are creating quality fantasy stories that are funny and inspiring and that say true things. Adults and children need Jonathan Rogers’s feechie folk, S. D. Smith’s rabbits with swords, Jonathan Auxier’s courageous chimney sweeps, Andrew Peterson’s brave and flawed Wingfeather children, and others to incarnate truths for us. Battling the forces of evil and experiencing a “eucatastrophe,” a moment of redemption, with a character in a story gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to know goodness and love truth.

Ginger Blomberg, “Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga and Why We Need Fantasy”

My kids and I have enjoyed some of the books Blomberg commends. I reviewed a few in posts from days on the olden internet. Good fantasy is a marvelous thing, and these are good titles, if you haven’t looked into them. Links in the original article.

ew, When Did You Last Wash that Mug?

Starbucks, Intelligentsia, and Peet’s Coffee have stopped accepting a personal tumbler or mug in which to put your special brew. Concerns over spreading the coronavirus have lead to changed practices and a few store closures.

If you’re thinking all the talk of coronavirus sounds fun, I encourage you to skip this one. It’s a real drag; not like the old days when you could count a popular bug or flu to get things swinging. Ahem.

Your home or office coffeemaker could be hatin’ on you with mold and bacteria. A 2011 study found 50 percent of the coffeemaker water tanks tested had mold or yeast inside. The Chicago Sun-Times has recommendations for cleaning your favorite kitchen device as well as other nasty substances people have found in coffeemakers.

Panera hopes you’ll skip a germ-ridden cup o’ joe at home and have it with them instead. They have launched a subscription plan that will provide free coffee and tea to patrons willing to part with $9/month via the MyPanera app. Mary didn’t like it enough, though it could have advantages if it ran smoothly in your area.

Photo by Mazniha Mohd Ali Noh on Unsplash

The Paradox of Authenticity

Who are you, when you boil it all down? How do you act when you are most like you?

Although most people would define authenticity as acting in accordance with your idiosyncratic set of values and qualities, research has shown that people feel most authentic when they conform to a particular set of socially approved qualities, such as being extroverted, emotionally stable, conscientious, intellectual and agreeable.

This is the paradox of authenticity: In order to reap the many of the benefits of feeling authentic, you may have to betray your true nature.

Jennifer Beer in Scientific American

While seeking to be authentic is admirable, what may work against most of us is the suspicion that we don’t like who we are, and worse, that we shouldn’t.

Subject via Prufrock / Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Clive Cussler, R.I.P.

Author and adventurer Clive Cussler (1931-2020) has died at age 88. The Guardian published this paragraph about his writing style, starting with the book that launched his career:

Raise the Titanic!, despite bad reviews, spent six months on the bestseller lists. Cussler’s prose was rarely more than serviceable; his plots and characters were redolent of the pulp magazines of his childhood, not least Doc Savage, whose technological heroism was surely an influence on Pitt, as it was on John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee, from whom Cussler also drew. He combined the exciting elements of Bond or Matt Helm spy thrillers with plot twists drawn from Alistair MacLean; his use of factual information was another MacDonald trademark, and was an influence on writers who followed, such as Tom Clancy.

Clancy died in 2013 at age 66.

The bookish site Shelf Awareness notes Cussler didn’t give a rats rear-end about criticism of his style. In 2015, he said, “I never had a highfalutin view of what I write. It’s a job. I entertain my readers. I get up in the morning and I start typing. . . . I want it to be easy to read. I’m not writing exotic literature. I like snappy dialogue and short descriptions and lots of action.”

Here’s an excerpt of Cussler from his 2004 novel, Trojan Odyssey.

An screenshot of text from Trojan Odyssey.

What Environmentalism Can Teach Us About Loving the Body

I didn’t notice Nancy Pearcey’s latest book when it was released in 2018, but I heard an interview today in which she described one of the explanations she makes that has caught the attention of many readers. Her book is Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, and it offers biblical reasons for accepting, even loving, the body God has given you.

She says we can take something from environmentalism.

The Nature Conservatory’s states, “Our mission is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Our vision is a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.”

What if we applied that logic to our own bodies? We are not spirits or souls trapped in a temporal, worthless vessel. We are unique body and soul beings, and our physical form is a major part of our lives. Our physical health is a big part of a thriving life. What if we treated it as a kind of natural good, something to love partly for its own sake, not something to fight against?

There are some who say we can and should remake ourselves into whatever image we imagine ourselves to be, but that’s not how we treat nature. We want to preserve the natural world around us. How about we preserve the natural form closest to us?

This is what I took from the interview. You’ll find more good reasoning in Pearcey’s Love Thy Body.