Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

finding out what someone is really like

Have you ever caught yourself being surprised, maybe shocked by discovering what someone is really like? More often than not this occurs when someone has done a very wrong or quite unpleasant act or says an awful thing. He does X which is bad, and we conclude that X exposes a dark underlying flaw which defines the true nature of the person.

Christians should not be surprised at others, or ourselves for that matter, doing some awful thing. It is after all just revealing our sinful nature or natural inclinations of our Adamic nature. But surprised we are.

The problem I think is not that we are surprised but the interpretation we make of the surprise. What does it mean? To expose who we really are? Doesn't this imply there some underlying reality that is the true self? Does all the good stuff we do just mask the true self?

Frankly, if that is the case I'd rather not find out. It is bad enough that the longer and better you know someone, the more garbage you find out about them. Sure you can find out more good things, but the discovery process seems to be biased toward finding garbage.

Someone, I forgot who, once said something to the effect that if you want to find a little gold you have to dig through tons of dirt. Well I'm not sure that is worth the effort. At least it seems to me like a small payoff for a lot of effort, unpleasant effort at that.

What is the reality? The tons of dirt or the small amounts of gold?

That is likely the type of question about which semi-drunk sophomores can have long, deep late-night discussions. As for me, I'm not interested this debate because I think I have the answer:

Neither.

Maybe, just maybe, we Christians ought to take God's view? While I usually do not have problems finding fault with a person, the Lord seems to have a different take. When I bother to check with Him, He is not interested in the past and not even too concerned with the present. He seems to view a person as He intends him or her to be, as the person is designed to be, and as He desires for them to be, rather than care about the how sin and circumstance has made one a distorted caricature of God's design.

Actually, the Lord just might be on to something here. It is much healthier to focus on God's ultimate vision, His truth, than on the temporary distortion of the past or present. I am not advocating denial of reality but rather focusing on results rather than temporary conditions.

I don't really want to find out people's secret garbage. This is also not denial. I've seen enough garbage and it no longer holds any fascination for me. In a similar way, I have no interest in examining a toilet after someone has used it and before it has been flushed.

We think we have brilliant insights into the truth when from God's perspective we are believing a distorted picture of the truth.

Let's see things as God sees them. Maybe this is an application of the instructions of Philippines 4:8?

Be blessed!
RB

Thursday, April 15, 2010

palace or toxic waste dump?

You have to study and learn so that you can make up your own mind about history and everything else but you can’t make up an empty mind. It is your house of treasure and no one in the world can interfere with it. If you won the Irish Sweepstakes and bought a house that needed furniture would you fill it with bits and pieces of rubbish? Your mind is your house and if you fill it with rubbish from the cinemas it will rot in you head. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is your palace."

~ Mr. O'Halloran in Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt


I read the above quote a while back from a friends blog that no longer is published. The quote got me to thinking about a couple of difficult people I have encountered of late. Each is very careful of the food they consume. For at least one it is a matter of fashion.

However, each of them is not very concerned about the stuff the put in the palace of their minds. The garbage they watch, the junk they read, the negative stuff they hear.

It just seems a bit inconsistent doesn't it?

Of course, when I point a finger at others it doesn't take me long to discover I'm pointing three fingers back at myself.

The bad stuff that slowly pollutes and poisons our minds, or at least the effect, is harder to get rid of than the effect of junk foods that our bodies absorb. Like junk food, the junk thoughts and junk ideas are quite enjoyable to consume. Do we think it doesn't matter because unlike food, the thoughts and ideas are not tangible so that somehow they aren't real?

I spend too much time consuming food, ideas, thoughts, images, words that are not good for me.

Why? I enjoy them.

This is dumb.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

centralized coercion by contractors

The Soviet Union may have been a failure but the US now knows how to simultaneously centrally plan a country's development while having a successful counterinsurgency (COIN) effort in Afghanistan. This is especially noteworthy since the first objective has never been done militarily. However, this chart shows us how it will be done!
For more see this article.

The new buzz words in DC: The 3D Approach. That is, the integration of diplomacy, defense, and development. "Hillary Clinton recently declared: 'We are working to elevate development and integrate it more closely with defense and diplomacy in the field…The three Ds must be mutually reinforcing'.... References to the 3D approach'… have become so pervasive in foreign policy, development, and national security circles that they have taken on the status of self-evident, common wisdom"(source).

How can we doubt these two will get the job done? Look how serious, committed, and confident they are!

Development economist William Easterly last month awarded the Worst in Aid Grand Prize to the 3d approach.

With capitalism being what it is, big-time defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. are heading where the money is and entering the economic development business. Some defense contractors are buying economic consulting firms since tens of billions of dollars in contracts are up for grabs. Africa is of interest to the state and defense departments so it is of interest to the contractors. They go where the money is (for more, go HERE). Military-led development has a long history in Africa, going back a hundred years or so. The difference is that Americans will be in charge this time.


Maybe this top-down development program should be called the 3C approach:

Centralized Coercion by Contractors

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

a dopey nostalgia for a nonexistent past?

Why It's So Hard To Get Real?
A book review by Paul Beston printed in The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday 13 April 2010, page A17.

The Authenticity Hoax By Andrew Potter

(Harper, 296 pages, $25.99)

Remember when eating organic food made you unusual? That was barely a decade ago, when people in the vanguard celebrated the superior taste of organic food, not mention its health benefits and environmental friendliness. But no sooner had the rest of us caught up than organic advocates began arguing that what really mattered was locally grown food. They pushed for the 100-mile diet, according to which one eats only food grown within that distance from one's home. Local-food evangelists now scorn the distantly grown organic products in places like Whole Foods and—above all—Wal-Mart. Of course, the problem with locally grown food is that it can be difficult to find and afford.

For Andrew Potter, the ever-narrowing search for just the right kind of food has less to do with saving the environment or pursuing a healthy lifestyle than with achieving a certain self-image, one in which the tawdry, consumerist aspects of modern life are thrown over for the sake of a simpler, truer, more "authentic" self. Food is only one part of that broader self-definition. In "The Authenticity Hoax," Mr. Potter notes that the search for authenticity often ends up as a status-seeking game.

Authenticity, Mr. Potter writes, is "a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it." By competing against one another to see who is more authentic, he says, we just become bigger phonies than we were before. The local-food trend illustrates what Mr. Potter calls "conspicuous authenticity," by which the well-heeled embark on a "perpetual coolhunt," whether it is for authentic jeans, pristine vacation spots or mud flooring, part of the "natural building" movement. The overarching goal is less to possess the thing itself than to make a claim to refined taste and moral superiority.

But the authenticity fixation, according to Mr. Potter, goes deeper than consumer choices. It is the culprit, for instance, behind "a debased political culture dominated by negative advertising and character assassination." Political candidates are always selling their own sincerity, so that any crack in the fa├žade (never too hard to find) launches a hundred attack ads. Taken to its darkest extremes, obsessive authenticity can become deadly, as in the case of Islamic fundamentalism or the hyper-nationalist authenticity of fascism. Less toxic, but more common, is the craving for authenticity among those in the West who see a market economy and consumer culture as sterile and false—inauthentic, in other words—and who defend the world's most repressive cultures, looking past their brutality to admire their resistance to modernity.

It is the disillusionment with modernity, Mr. Potter maintains, that underlies the authenticity quest. When man was preoccupied with finding food and appeasing capricious gods, he didn't have the time or inclination to ask whether he had "sold out" for an easy paycheck or failed to align himself with some abstract ideal of the "authentic" life. But then science made the formerly mystical cosmos explainable, and a spread of democratic ideas, in politics and markets alike, made food and freedom more broadly shared. The result was "a new kind of society and, inevitably, a new kind of person," Mr. Potter writes, one more given to looking within for meaning and not liking what he found there. The individual's own self-definition filled the gap left by faith and authority.

Mr. Potter anoints Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th-century philosopher, as the godfather of the authenticity quest. His famous "state of nature" was a fantasy of authenticity, an idea of man's existence before society. Mr. Potter argues that Rousseau used the state-of-nature concept as "a regulative ideal" by which to measure how far we had strayed from a lost harmony.

Rousseau's "antimodern tunnel vision," Mr. Potter says, can be found in various modern forms: in the views of the American Transcendentalists of the 19th century and the counterculture heroes of the 1960s, for instance; or in such gloomy social critics as Al Gore and Prince Charles and alarmists like James Howard Kunstler. These antimodern voices, and others, represent what Mr. Potter calls "the authenticity hoax in full throat: a dopey nostalgia for a non-existent past, a one-sided suspicion of the modern world, and stagnant and reactionary politics masquerading as something personally meaningful and socially progressive."

Mr. Potter is here to tell us what should be obvious: that there is no paradise back there, that we moderns have never had it so good and that authenticity in the way we've defined it is a sham. Modern life has blessed us with health, wealth and freedom never imagined in the good old days. It is depressing that anyone should have to write a book defending modernity from such crude opponents, but Mr. Potter's broad-ranging survey makes a good case that the authenticist fantasy is deeply embedded in the culture.

Few given to the authenticity mindset will be convinced by Mr. Potter's straightforward prescription: that we simply make our peace with modernity and accept its trade-offs. He urges us to "rehabilitate the very idea of progress: not the blind conviction that things are getting better all the time, but the simple faith that even when humans encounter obstacles, we'll figure things out, through the exercise of reason, ingenuity, and goodwill." Mr. Potter's admirable faith in progress, even as qualified, may itself be a little utopian or ahistorical, however. Europe's brightest minds expressed similar confidence prior to August 1914. And while much of the authenticity search is absurd, not all of it is so easily separable from the self-criticism that has been foundational to Western success. The extremes of Rousseau's heirs are just one of the tolls we'll have to keep paying for freedom of thought and philosophical self-examination. Whether using our unique powers of reason or ignoring them altogether, humans have probably always been a little phony.

Mr. Beston is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.


decisions, decisions, decisions.

A while back I heard a fantastic sermon. It was about making a decision for Christ. Most when they read that, think of the decision to initially receive Christ as saviour. Hey, that decision is just the first step. It is just the first decision for Christ. Every day we are making decisions for Christ. (Actually, we are more often making decisions against Christ.) Most of us, if we have a rare moment of honesty, should admit that we are just in this Jesus thing for what we can get out of it. We accept Him as savior and we get our fire insurance. If we do the Jesus-is-Lord bit, it usually means we try not to do obviously bad things, to keep ourselves socially acceptable. It is not to earn salvation but to show that Jesus is our Lord.

The big question for believers: What’s in it for me?

We know what we’re supposed to do, but does it really matter? We’re saved by grace and it is not obvious what’s in it for us. How much more can there be?

Don’t go overboard with prayer, going to church, worshiping, reading the Bible. There are other things to do and those things aren’t bad. It is alright if my closest friends are not Christians. It is alright to do stuff as long as it isn’t forbidden. Why not? What’s in it for me if I do otherwise?

When I ask, “What’s in it for me?” and then can’t think of much of a pay off, then I am deciding against Christ.

I have spent most of the last 25-plus years being surprised that there is more. There is something in it for me but I didn't realize it beforehand. Even more surprised when I discover God wants to give more to me. I never could imagine that beforehand. Maybe I saw in Scripture that others had more. What exactly, I didn’t really understand, at least not until God gave it to me as well.

I never really got it. I never really got just how generous and loving our God is.

God is always offering me more but I always have to give up something. It is not a payment or a transaction with God. No, it is just the reality of making a choice. If you choose one thing then there was something you didn’t choose. You had to give it up. If it wasn’t that way it wouldn’t be a choice.

The funny thing is, I seldom know ahead of time what it is that I am actually getting. I have a much better understanding of what I'm giving up. You don't have to be an economist to see this might bias the choices that I make. That is why I must trust God and then be surprised.

I used to try to manipulate God to get stuff from him but found that didn’t work. As if God didn’t really want to bless me? I used to strive to put myself in a position to receive. I thought if I did stuff right I’d receive since I’ve got God’s promises. I'd have God on the hook. After all, He has to keep his promises doesn't He?

That was dumb.

Actually I still catch myself trying to manipulate God. Double dumb. You'd think I'd learn to trust God more by now.

God wants me. All of me. If I give Him a little more then I find out there is more to have, so I give more after which I find there is more to have so I give up more…. I’m not complaining. I always get a good deal. It’s like doing a straight trade of a 1986 K-car for a 2010 BMW.

No part of my life is really mine anymore. Now I find I can’t really do anything. I need to abide in Christ, rest in His strength. I have no option but to let him do all the work. I’m just a branch resting in His vine. I just need to be obedient, constantly make a decision for him and remember his presence abiding in me. The joke is that I can’t even do that unless He enables me. I can’t do anything to make it happen but I can make it stop. Go figure.

Looking back over what I wrote, it seems this may sound to some as if, well, ah, as if it kinda of sucks.

Actually it is really good. It is really peaceful and really liberating. God is good. Being with God is good. Anything else is a bonus. I think I am starting to get a very tiny glimpse of what the Christian-thing is supposed to be. It is good. I didn’t really choose it, but I did make a series of less-than-totally consistent decisions for Christ.

If I were smart, I'd be much more consistent in making decisions for Christ.


Be blessed.
RB

Monday, April 12, 2010

the great recession in perspective

This article has a cool interactive (flash) graph comparing the recent so-called Great Recession with earlier recessions. While it is not official yet, the Great Recession appears to be over, probably since last summer, and we are now in a recovery. [Note that when the economy is in a recovery just means that things have stopped getting worse -- not that things are necessarily that much better.]

You can click and compare additional past recessions at the bottom of the graph. You might want to also click the Depth of Recessions tab to see how this was the worst since before WWII.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

how to write about africa: the view from africa


| How to Write about Africa | Granta 92: The View from Africa | Granta Magazine


If you aren't up to reading this bit of satire, you can get most of it from the illustration to the right.

Be blessed.
RB

Saturday, April 10, 2010