Statisticians: Modern Fortune Tellers

I was quite young when I first came across the phrase, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” in the context of how to frame a question for a failing answer. That broad concept jarred my innocent assumptions: “Why would you want to do that?” And once having eyes opened to the manipulation of it, I began to see it everywhere. I’ve been observing this since high school.
 
This tactic used to be the realm of the salesman but I began to see it in journalists’ interviews, and then in the way everything in the media was artfully worded for a desired emotional impact. And yes, it was. It HAD to be, or else people wouldn’t buy it.
 
Today the impact of phrasing has drifted into “scientific polling” and we’ve disdained the poets for science that isn’t science within cultural surveys of all sorts. People sift, sort, and filter through the answers to find what they were planning on finding, by dint of the questions and how they were framed. “Why would they want to do that?” Indeed, why?
 
Soon, if not already, your workplace will have you take a “survey” to see how racist you are. It is not science, no matter which lauded institution of higher learning touts it. It is art, and an extremely complex and clever one. But its sophistication does not make it an accurate picture of your soul.
 
Manipulation is the devil’s playground, and it’s why we are reminded in the bible that he is the accuser of your soul, and you mustn’t give him that authority. Besides, it’s where all the money is made. There is HUGE money in this latest attempt to have vast numbers of people self-negate in order to feel better about the horrible mirror that such manipulations hold up for them to see. This is a false framing of the problem, a false burden of sin, and a false salvation for your soul. All dressed up as systemic compassion as an answer to the oppression that the accuser brings to the world.
 
For sure we are sinful and in need of salvation. We know our own soul. To trust a statistician to reveal it to you is to go to a gypsy to have your fortune told, to be promised that she will unlock the mystery of your self to you. It’s witchcraft.
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Epistemic Mirrors

I’m sorry, but we can’t love eternal, evergreen Truth and “like” Salon. Or Fox News, HuffPo, NYT or NPR etc. Best to see oneself as an observer of such fare and not a consumer of it.

In fact, we can’t love Truth and trust ANY people who sell information– often cloaked as entertainment– purely for profit.(NPR hosts do it for love, sure, but they have to keep the BMW payments current.)

Playing with the Truth is the devil’s only real power; he can’t create a single thing. I don’t think he turns away from such an effective and long-proven weapon against the human soul. I think he makes it fun! with lists! and memes of outrageous! tragic! righteous! heroic! exclusive! and mostly, a/musing.

We naturally tend to heap our “likes” on the cultural information that reinforces our self-image– especially if it makes us feel morally fit. If we’re honest, it’s more real-time comforting to us than God’s divine assurances of our loveliness and acceptance in Christ’s atonement, because that was so five minutes ago.

Every “like,” “share,” and “comment”; every click of the mouse, is reinforcing to ourselves who we are. Every selfie is our attempt to convey who we are, and if we are honest, we know we are “selling it” to our best advantage. And we think folks who get paid to do such things are above “selling it” to us for their best advantage? Do you know who they are when they’re not selling ideas to you? Do you care?

Look, we don’t have movies because we want a calm and contented world-view, we want escape. And we have made-up “reality” shows because we want to experience otherness… CHANGE. We positively ache for newness every morning but we substitute it with mere news: who died, who offended, who sang, who is our new champion of the moment? It’s in our DNA. It’s a powerful and attractive force.

But we don’t seek the newness of God’s mercy. Nor the joy of His Truth, or the beauty of His creation– a force that wants to awaken us to CREATE instead of CONSUME. God’s in the creation business and your spirit, if you’re a Christian, is hungry for it. The enemy is in the distortion business and your human soul is satisfied with the empty calories of it. You’re soaking in it even now, in this stew-pot of likes and shares and selfies.

The layers of editors, salespeople, CEOs, managers, accountants and crony politicians behind everything we consume in the big publications, newscasts, and commercials is more than we can know– so we choose not to. We shut down our brains where we most need to employ them. But it’s our duty, if we love Truth above our cultural preferences and intellectual conceits, to be skeptical of the dietitians of our information consumption.

To be in the world and not of it, we must step away and observe it without consuming it. Let’s make sure we’re not existing in a hall of epistemic mirrors, enthralled to the selfie we find there.

The Fake Spin Cycle of Fake News

boob-toobIt’s not really a “news” cycle nowadays, since very little of it is news. It’s more of an entertainment cycle. And today’s viral star is Fake News.

It doesn’t matter what news items flow into and through our daily glances, true or not, it grows stale and mouldy like yesterday’s manna. We don’t really remember the warehouse fire of X days ago, unless there is an emotional bond. We don’t really remember the horrific highway crash of last winter because we’ll blindly hug the bumper of the car in front of us this winter, unless or until it becomes personal.  So news, real or faked, doesn’t have the emotional hook into us. Our appetite for this sort of “newness” is voracious as we skim the facts and ask, “What else ya got?”  The advert media outlets oblige us 24/7.

But I’m perfectly skeptical of the “Fake News” news stories, the Buzzfeed survey results, the hand-wringing and fake-shaming going on. It’s a pantomime behind a screen. This is all about restoring the Alphabet Network’s –and thus the Elite’s– devastated credibility. The slight-of-hand trick is working, the surveys are pristine and respectable if you don’t question what the weighted factor is, and they are all vying for our trust so they may continue their merry mayhem of race-baiting, hand-wringing, and showing you how much you need them in order to live another day. They will save you, inform you, watch over you, tell you why that news story in that big city could be a problem in your podunk village and why it matters, and how diverse they are even though there’s not 1% mixture of non-white people in said podunk burg, and anything that happens anywhere could happen to us here! Oh noes!

Turn it off. All of it. It’s the only way to be sure you’re not giving eyes to the fakirs.

Every survivor now grieving knows the hollowness of “honest talk” about gun control.

France and Paris have very strict gun control laws — even the police are unarmed — which seems about as “honest” as every gun-grabber expects the U.S. to be about gun control: Just get rid of guns.

Let’s have that honest conversation. I prefer the honesty of meeting evil force with like force, quickly and decisively. I prefer the honesty of protecting those we love with the hard promise that we will kill, decisively and quickly, anyone who aims to harm them. I’d prefer to let my child know that, like the President, she deserves nothing less than vigilance and protection afforded by good citizens armed with equal force to meet the bad ones. Everything else is a political agenda full of sound and fury, signifying nothing but a surrender of beautiful Reason for cheap, feel-good superiority.

Every survivor now grieving knows the hollowness of “honest talk” about gun control. If they’d had a gun at that moment, they would have owned the conversation and the outcome.

Click on the pic below for a link to see how some scared rabbit on Upworthy wants it to wring my heart with tears of impotent rage, and wishes that a Unicorn could make all the guns disappear.

See the sad face in the picture below? Were she my child, she would know beyond any doubt, any law, or any “honest” rhetoric that I have no vision of strewing a street corner with flowers and candles in her memory but would destroy ANYthing that sought to make her one.

adorable

Confirmed, Life-long Pirates. Every One Of You Guys.

Errol Flynn[Re-posted from August 2013]
In my daily work, I have opportunity to meet with two or three couples in a day, with the intention to advise them on a life-changing shift in their circumstances and how best to handle the details. It’s a stressful situation, to move from point A to point B with your life still more or less intact. So I’m kind, genial and helpful, striking up the sort of patter that eases stress and imparts a sense of connection.

Most times, the couples are older, much older. They are down-sizing to move into an adult community or assisted living near their kids in some other state. Sometimes they’re mid-career, mid-family, mid-life, but in all cases they are well supplied with the necessary financial means to make the changes, up or down. In other words, people far above my station in life. They have more than they can say grace over. They have things up to their ears, or very large things, or very old things, and always expensive things.

So believe me when I say that their lives are complicated by all.that.stuff. Be it the wife’s furniture, art, or collectible figurines, or the guy’s workshop, electronics, toys and tools. It’s antiques from family members long since buried, or just a collection of family memorabilia with no significance beyond the outposts of the family branches. It can own you, you know; make you build bigger barns to keep it. Make you pay big money to have it follow you.

“We’re downsizing, I swear! It’s just too much stuff. And our kids don’t want it, and it’s too nice to just give it away. Do you have any idea how hard this is?” It’s a common, daily remark heard in my line of work, and it’s filled with stress.

“Yes,” I reply, “We, too, just downsized considerably. We’re living on our boat!”

And then I see it: the Pirate Glint. It’s the twinkle in the ancient eye, or the grim jealousy in the mid-life eyes, narrowing into my own, burning with intensity, “Really! On a boat! I’ve always wanted to live on a boat! Do you like it? Wow! It’s a lifelong dream for us, how did you make it happen?” Of course the wives have other reactions bordering on murderous intent, or bemused love for her life-long-boy-pirate Peter Pan. But the stress fades, the man is engaged now in the process so often left to the missus.

It does make for some pleasant conversation when easing people into big changes. I don’t play that card every time, but it never fails to hook the imagination of the man of the house; the captain of a different Fate than he likely imagined. I see him reach so far back into his soul that the little boy, that perfect little boy inside, comes out to play Pirates and Indians.

Ladies, you married a Pirate, I guarantee it. Not that fey, foppish Johnny Depp kind, either. Errol Flynn derring-do is what he’s all about; sails and water and freedom. Be sure to remember that when the hustle of obligations and things get up around his soul. Men are the true romantics. And they never, ever out-live it.

Never doubt it.

Another Bedtime Story

We outgrow our bedtime stories
trading monsters and fair maidens
for the hard-won moment’s glories
of an evening’s relaxation

Now we numb our thoughts and passion
give ourselves to faint blue light
let the subtler monsters rush in
selfish ogres, aging plights

Yet awaits a land to dream in
good and rightness there prevail
gentle lull of moonlight beams in
as she arcs the sky full sail

Take the hand of your moon maiden
dream of dragons, deeds and fame
you’re a ship with treasures laden
a fell pirate without shame

Cutlass-garbed and burden free
say goodbye to lesser mortals
venture into that bright sea
dream of lands with shining portals

bedtime stories never leave us
we just give them diff’rent frock
time for bed now, oh my darling
let us dream away the clock

-Joan Varga

******

Many thanks to you Cappy Cap, for the Cappy-lanche, and welcome to your readers!

Christmas Card

Virgin Birth. [Smirk goes here.]

We think we are so wise to scoff at a fairy tale and hoot at the simplicity of a gullible people who would accept the premise of a virgin birth; as though in Biblical times there was no such thing as a cynic; no winking, clucking crones who knew better than be taken in by that ruse. Or, as is more likely, we’d like to conveniently forget that in those times even disobedient children were stoned to death, so greatly did fear rule the hearts of men.

We live in a day where we can now easily witness a real stoning on our iPhone if we choose: A real woman. Solid stones. Yielding bones. For us, a horrible snuff film. For the zealous of Islam, a righteous lesson and stern warning to the unbeliever.

Such zealots fear Christmas for their own reasons. I’m more interested in why we do, too. We’re not afraid to recite the story in the safe surroundings of the adjunct scenery: makeshift stables and glittering cardboard stars made by neighbors and friends, whose children giggle at Harold Angels.

But we don’t really, really want to contemplate what it means to believe it. What it costs. It’s bothersome. Maybe to ourselves, our own sense of tradition and sentiment we’ll admit a smattering of transcendent notions about some one, or some idea, or angels, and light feelings, and—

But not really, really. . . not. . . well, really? A virgin birth?

It’s so stupid. A virgin birth. *snort!*

Half a world and not so far away, angry, cowardly Islamic men stone women so that they can uphold the darker fairy tales of their own goodness and purity. But we all have attempted something similar in thought if not in deed. In some way, it’s a story as old as life itself:  the shifting of blame, the shedding of blood, the scapegoat of our fears sent from our camp of awful reality– and so we are made good again. A fractured fairy tale of life as we seek a way out and up.

We live in a world of elites who tell us far grander fairy tales about ourselves, and we, being so wise in our fear of being stupid, we’ll follow any star as long as we don’t have to leave the couch. Vague comfort and diaphanous joy is all we seek. No need to saddle up and risk everything for more than that.

I’m curious. Is there some dark harm in believing in a virgin birth at that time, in that place, in those inconvenient circumstances? In believing in such a thing, am I inspired to fear and loathing, or might I share in an utterly unlikely miracle that makes me doubt my own goodness– and to look up for answers instead of around for a stone?

So, did a young girl, paralyzed with fear, have nothing to lose by telling a stupid lie? Or did she give birth to Life while under the shadow of death? What man of Joseph’s day would stand with such a woman, and not take up a stone, but instead take a wife?

I mean, c’mon, really?

Yes, really. It’s all Good.

(From Christmas 2010.)

A Different Take on Valentine’s Day and Anniversaries

Ladies, here’s what’s bugging me: why do you thirst for failure from your beloved?

You know it’s true, girlfriend. In your dark little selfish places, you want to prove to yourself that you’re better, that he’s lesser and so gain the upper hand. What the hell is it you seek, a relationship with a mortal being, or another opportunity to step on someone in your stupid quest for self-esteem?

Here’s my deal: develop a desire for your beloved to be successful in his quest to please you.

You’d listen to that kind of advice from a sex counselor, but you won’t embrace it for your emotional needs, fearing it won’t be “authentic” and worthy of glorious “you.”

Feh. Help a guy out. Help him love you, help him to know how. It’s not a contest of wills, it’s a lovely dance if you want it to be. I see so many petty women around me fiercely erecting walls of unspoken expectations for their man to scale. Then they go out onto the parapets of their pride and deride a man for even attempting the climb. It’s not fair; it’s not lovely or becoming to the sweet graces we’re given.

Guys, if your gal is holding some anniversary date a secret from you, I, a woman, grant you a “get out of jail free” card. I can’t stand that stupid crap; as though going to the altar was a tacit agreement to a game of Memory. Women pretend to airs of romance when they cherish certain days, and it can be that, but not when such tokens are reserved as ammunition instead of loving signposts.

The truth is, men are the true romantics and dreamers and you’d better figure out why you haven’t awakened that aspect out from under his other natural instincts of hard-ass attitude and hard-headed stubbornness. Fact: He loves you. He wouldn’t be with you a minute longer than necessary if that wasn’t so.

Tell him what you want him to know. Unless he has set out to be the Amazing Kreskin, he’s not a mind-reader and he certainly won’t apply for the gig.

But he wants to be successful in his chosen endeavors. So plant big, stupid hints. Cheerfully! Lead him into love and you’ll have something much more meaningful than a card or flowers; you’ll have his love, respect and gratitude.

Do you love him? Then why do you want him to fail in loving you? Why wouldn’t you want him to be successful in the most important endeavor of his life?

*****

Thanks to Big, Bad Blue link here.

Larwyn Links! Thanks!

Cappylanche! Awesome.

The Manger Is Empty – Part 2

The Manger Is Empty – Part 2 —by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Part 1 is here.

On Tuesday, the 22nd of December, Odessa Williams died.

It had been a long time coming, but it was quick when it came. She died in her sleep and went to God without her dentures.

Quick when it came, I say: Odessa left us little time to mourn for her. Gaines Funeral Home had less than a day to prepare her body, because the wake would take place on Wednesday evening. The funeral itself had to be scheduled for Thursday morning. There was no alternative. Friday was Christmas Day; Saturday and Sunday were the weekend; Gaines would be closed for three days straight, and Monday was too far away to make Odessa wait for burial. She would be buried, then, on Christmas Eve Day.

And I, for my own part, was terribly distracted by a hectic week. This was the very crush of the season, you see, with a children’s pageant and extra services to prepare. My pastoral duty was already doubled; Odessa’s funeral tripled it. So I rushed from labor to labor, more pastor than father, more worker than wise.

Not brutally, but somewhat busily at lunch on Wednesday, I mentioned to my children that Miz Williams had died. They were eating soup. This was not an unusual piece of news in our household, for the congregation had its share of elderly.

I scarcely noticed, then, that Mary stopped eating and stared at her bowl of soup.

I wiped my mouth and rose from the table.

“Dad?”

I was trying to remember what time the children should be at church to rehearse the Christmas program. Timing was everything. I wanted to give them a last instruction before I left.

“Dad?”

One thirty! “Listen – Mom will drive you to church a 1:15. Can you all be ready then?”

“Dad?”

“Mary, what?” She was still staring at the soup, large eyes lost behind her hair.

“Is it going to snow tomorrow?” she said.

“What? I don’t know. How would I know that?”

“It shouldn’t snow,” she said.

“You always wanted snow at Christmas.”

In a tiny voice she whispered, “I want to go to the funeral.”

Well, then, that was it: She was considering what to wear against the weather. I said, “Fine,” and left.

Thursday came gray and hard and cold and windless. It grudged the earth a little light and made no shadow. The sky was sullen, draining color from the grass and the naked trees. I walked to church in the morning.

We have a custom in our congregation: Always, before a funeral service begins, we set the casket immediately in front of the chancel and leave it open about an hour. People come for a final viewing of the body, friends who couldn’t attend the wake, acquaintances on their way to work, strangers out of the past, memories, stories, that will never be told. The dead one lies the same for all who gaze at her, infinitely patient. So people enter the church, and they creep up the aisle, and they look, and they think, and they leave again.

Soon some of the mourners remain. They keep their coats on, but they sit in the pews and wait.

And then, ten minutes before the service, I robe myself and stand in the back of the church to meet the greater flow of mourners. Last of all the family will arrive in limousines. I keep peeping out the door to see whether the silent cars have slid to their places at the curb.

And so it was that on Christmas Eve at 11 in the morning I discovered Mary outside the door. In fact, she was standing on the sidewalk while her mother parked the car. She was staring at the sullen sky.

“Mary?” I said. “Are you coming in?”

She glanced at me. Then she whispered, “Dad?” as though the news were dreadful. “It’s going to snow.”

It looked very likely to snow. The air was still, the whole world bleak and waiting. I could have agreed with her.

“Dad?” she repeated more urgently, probing me with large eyes—but what was I supposed to do? “It’s going to snow!” she said.

“Come in, Mary. We don’t have time to talk. Come in.”

She entered the church ahead of me and climbed the steps in the narthex, then started up the aisle toward the casket. She was determined. Though robed and ready to preach, and though people sat face-forward on either side, I followed her.

Mary hesitated as she neared the chancel, but then took a final step and stopped.

She looked down into the casket. “Oh, no,” she murmured, and I looked to see what she was seeing.

Odessa’s eyes seemed closed with glue, her lips too pale, her color another shade than her own, a false, woody color. Her skin seemed pressed into its patience. And the bridge of her nose suffered a set of glasses. Had Odessa worn glasses? Yes, sometimes. But these were perched on her face a little askew, so that one became aware of them for the first time. Someone else had put them thee. What belonged to the lady anymore, and what did not?

These were my speculations.

Mary had her own.

The child was reaching her hand toward the tips of Odessa’s fingers, fingers like sticks of chalk, but she paused and didn’t touch them. Suddenly she bent down and pressed her cheek to the fingers, then pulled back and stood erect.

“Dad!” she hissed. Mary turned and looked at me and did not blink but began to cry. “Dad!” she wept. “They can’t put Miz Williams in the grave today. It’s going to snow on her grave. It’s going to snow on Miz Williams.”

All at once Mary stepped forward and buried her face in my robes. I felt the pressure of her forehead against my chest—and I was her father again, no pastor, and my own throat grew thick.

“Dad,” sobbed Mary. “Dad, Dad, it’s Christmas Eve!”

These were the tears. These were the tears my daughter cried at Christmas. What do I say to these tears? It is death my Mary met. It’s the end of things. It’s the knowledge that things have an end. Good things, kind and blessed things, things new and rare and precious, and their goodness doesn’t save them; that love has an end; that people have an end; that Odessa Williams, that fierce old lady who seized the heart of my Mary and possessed it just four days ago, who was so real in dim light, waving her arms to the music of the children, that she has an end, has ended, is gone, is dead.

How do I comfort these tears? What do I say?

I said nothing.

I knelt down. I took my Mary’s face between my hands, but couldn’t hold her gaze. I gathered her to myself and hugged her tightly, hugged her hard, hugged her until the sobbing passed from her body, and then I released her.

I watched her go back down the aisle like a poker soldier. She turned in a pew and sat with her mother. I saw that her lips were pinched into a terrible knot. No crying anymore. No questions anymore. Why should she ask questions when there were no answers given?

So: the funeral. And so: the sermon. And so I was the pastor again.

This was the text: “But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish.” The prophet Isaiah. It had seemed a perfect text, both for the season and for Odessa. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” I read. That prophecy had come true in Jesus. It would become a truth again for the fierce old woman whose memorial this was. And for us, too, since we were mourning now, but we would be celebrating tonight. I read: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Christmas! I said somewhere in my sermon. Light is shining everywhere across the world, as light is shining first and perfectly in heaven. None who die in the Lord do die in darkness.

But what were Isaiah and prophecy and all the sustaining truths of Christendom to my daughter Mary? She sat through the sermon with pinched lips and a sidelong stare. What was heaven to her? Nothing. Odessa had been something to her. You could touch and love Odessa. But Odessa was dead. The casket was closed. Death was something to her now, and maybe the only thing.

Later, at Oakhill Cemetery, the people stood in great coats round the casket, shivering. My breath made ghosts in the air as I read of dust and ashes returning to dust and ashes. Mary said not a word nor held her mother’s hand nor looked at me—except once.

When we turned form the grave she hissed, “Dad!” Her blue eyes flashing, she pointed at the ground. Then she pointed at the sky. At the roots of the grasses was a fine, white powder; in heaven was a darker powder coming down. It was snowing.

Continued in Part 3.