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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in cyningdun's LiveJournal:

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Friday, April 9th, 2010
5:50 am
Thoughts While Low in the Middle of the Night
5 minutes ago my blood glucose level was 2.8 mmol/L (micromoles per litre). Now it's 4.0 mmol/L. As those who have had to deal with human blood sugar levels before will know, that represents the transition from a low blood sugar level to a normal blood sugar level. Since the impact on my blood sugar of the orange juice I drank just over 5 minutes ago has now mostly occurred, that also means that I hit the nail pretty well right on the head with how much of it to drink to treat the low. I pride myself in my ability in that regard, although this time is was relatively easy since the fast-acting Humalog insulin I took yesterday has long since run its course, and only the long term, slow-acting Lantus insulin I took before bed and in the early afternoon today are still influencing my blood sugars.

These are the sorts of things you have to think about all the time as a diabetic. What insulins are working, where your blood sugars are at, how the food you're eating will be influencing them, and how your activities will also be influencing them. You can take a variety of perspectives on this, and depending on the perspective you choose, it can range from really sucking to providing amazing levels of insight and control into the workings of your body. Naturally, as a habitual enjoyer of life, I most often choose the latter sorts of perspectives (focusing on the positive aspects while being aware of the negative aspects, that is).

I think the really unnerving thing, for me, about having a low (what all the cool diabetic kids call it when your blood glucose level drops below 4.0 mmol/L), is that there is this sort of fundamental, biological terror that I feel. I am receiving the whole time (and more so as I go lower) this physiological signal from my body that something is wrong. It pulls me toward panic. My focus turns inward. My blood starts pumping faster. And despite all the discipline of my mind, I cannot get rid of the biological imperative telling me that something about my body desperately needs to be fixed. There is just nothing I can do about it.

I wonder if that's what it's like when there's something wrong with your body for a long time. For example, maybe in a hospital, before dying. When I've been in hospitals before, I've mostly either been in intense pain, or improving from intense pain. I can't say I've noticed this physiological feeling of wrongness about the state of my body before. But if it were breaking down, would it at some point start to send these signals? Would I have to get used to them? I don't know; maybe.

And now I've treated my low and stabilized my blood sugars with a granola bar. The orange juice stops affecting blood sugars very quickly. The granola bar will affect them for a long time, so it should counteract the excess long term insulin that caused my low until after I get up in the morning. Now comes the other thing that I find unnerving about lows: they don't always happen when you expect them. Most specifically, they sometimes happen during the night, when you might not be awake to realize that they're going on. Sure, the biological feeling of "wrongness" that I was talking about sometimes wakes me up. I think it always wakes me up for significant lows. But there have been times that they have gotten pretty bad before I woke up. I think the worst was 1.6 (maybe 1.8) mmol/L. That is a very dangerous blood sugar level. People have gone into diabetic comas with their sugars at that level. What if sometime I don't wake up to something like that? I could drift into a coma unawares. I could suffer brain damage, or I could die. It attaches a little twinge of fear to just going to sleep every night, and more so if I'm not really sure what my sugars are doing at the time.

And now I can tell you sometime that happened once, that really terrified me, and I think you'll understand.

A few years ago, over March Break, I had the flu. It was a pretty bad flu, with detritus being ejected from both ends and all the pain imaginable at its most active. But the worst of that flu happened one day when my blood sugars went low.

Illness can sometimes make blood sugars behave strangely, and one way or another, this happened to me. I was keeping food down reasonably well that day, thankfully, though I couldn't handle anything too substantial. And I had what I thought would be a minor low. It started out around 3.5 mmol/L, and I took a dose of sugar easily suitable to recover. I wasn't on much insulin, due to not eating much while I had the flu. In any event, I treated it. But then 15 minutes later, my sugar was down to about 3.3 mmol/L. So, I thought, wow, my insulin is working far more effectively than I thought (that sometimes happens as a consequence of illness). So, I took a bigger dose of sugar. I dutifully tested 5 minutes later, as recommended by the diabetes specialists, and to my surprise, I had dropped below 3.0.

I was, you might imagine, getting a little panicked. Not only was I feeling the "something is wrong!" response more strongly as my sugars dropped, but also things weren't behaving at all like they should, or ever had. I had no control over it.

What I did next was a little crazy, but perhaps understandable given the above statements (and my knowledge that it is far harder to go into a coma from high sugars than from low sugars). I damned well wanted to be feeling better, and everything in me was telling me that something was wrong, and I had to fix it. I had used up all my juice at this point, so I switched to refined sugar dissolved in water, and took a whopping 4 to 5 doses of the stuff all at once. Now, 2 doses of orange juice was enough today to raise my sugars from 2.8 to 4.0. Back then, in a similar situation, after waiting for 5 minutes on 4 or 5 doses... I was down to 2.2. I sat there for a period of a couple of hours, monitoring my sugars, and eating tons of sugar myself. Nothing was working like it should have, and there was no rhyme or reason to it. Eventually the rate of my dropping sugars slowed (I think it went down to 1.6 or so at its worst, which is especially scary when I seem incapable of bringing it back up, but with lots of sugar I was able to maintain it). And finally, I was recovered. But that couple of hours were terrifying.

If I had been a wiser man, I might have checked myself into a hospital. But I feared the vulnerability of waiting to check into emergency without ready access to comfort or sugar (isn't a waiting room a horrible place to make sick people sit?), or really of being in a hospital, where they insist they know how to treat diabetes even when they do not. I really didn't trust them to treat the diabetic side of my situation.

If I had been a wiser man I definitely would have called a friend to come over and stay with me, and call an ambulance if I passed out. At the time, I was so intently focused on keeping myself alive that the thought (life preserving as it might have been) never really entered my mind. I was busy dealing with the urgent problem at hand.

And now I'm going to go back to bed. I'm pretty sure I won't go low before morning; and I need my sleep. But maybe this has given you some insight into the diabetic experience; or, for the diabetics reading this, some company. G'night!
Friday, December 18th, 2009
12:29 pm
Simplicity and Knowledge
I have been thinking a lot lately about simplicity principles and knowledge. It seems to me that most of our academic endeavor assumes that underlying everything are certain simple precepts. This is certainly true in the sciences, where the goal of research is to determine single rules applicable to a range of natural interactions. It has its role also in disciplines that do not expect their content to reduce to axiomatic laws, such as history. The whole purpose of an essay is to relate a great range of facts to a single thesis.

Probably because of the particulars of my education, my mind tends naturally toward attempting to find simple principles or concepts that explain the world around me. This is so natural to me that I am not sure how to understand the world otherwise. But it seems to me that the advantage of simplicity is only pragmatic. It has to do with the limitations of my mind, rather than any external truth. Why should we expect the principles governing our world to be more simple than the world itself? Why not more complex?

Maybe it is because coming up with a principle at all requires abstraction, and abstraction inherently filters out differences between objects in favor of their similarity. Abstraction, and principles, then are mere conveniences and not necessarily truths. They may be evolved in us to help us to survive with limited mental resources (less brain to cool/protect). They certainly give good bang for your buck.

I guess whether principles are valuable depends on two things. First, how reality works.

If the disorder in the world all results from certain principles (physical, rational, etc.), then principles exist apart from those abstracted by humans. If it results from chance, then the only principles are the ones we create. In the latter case, our principles really are meaningless. They don't exist apart from the interactions of neurons in our minds.

In the former case, well, that takes me to the other thing the value of principles depends on. If there are principles that really do exist in some way apart from our minds, then our principles are valuable if they are the actual principles that the world is based upon. Furthermore, if the universe if based on certain principles, it is sensible at least for us to try and find out what those principles are. It will actually tell us something that exist in the world beyond our minds.

So, our principles are valuable if they give us accurate knowledge about the world outside of our minds.

I think that there are actual principles that reality behaves according to. In particular, physical and rational laws together can make fairly accurate predictions about things we don't know yet. Furthermore, multiple observers share a belief in at least a great many of these principles (albeit, most of the ones I have communicated with are all of the same species, so they might not be that independent). Still, I feel that I am far from proving any of this since my own perspective and reasoning are bound by the assumption that the universe springs from some simple principles.

I also have only one reason why the universe would be guided by certain principles, and that (this will sound like a cop out to many) is that is was designed by a conscious entity. Propose another reason if you will, but I think any other reason will just be an appeal to a principle, which I think in turn presupposes a designer.

I'll bet some philosophers have said a lot of stuff on this kind of thing. Maybe I'll read some of it someday. For now I'll go on assuming that principles mean something.
Monday, January 12th, 2009
12:22 pm
The Epistomological Value of Pragmatism to Morality
First, I submit this for your understanding and correction as necessary: Pragmatism, as it relates to morality, is the belief that the good of a moral action is the sum of the goodness of its effects, such that an action which results in overall good is considered a good action.

Now, for the rest of this to make sense I think I also need to specify some things about my worldview.

I distinguish two different meanings of good. There is good as opposed to evil, which can be used to describe a moral action (i.e. an intentional action), and may (I'm still not sure about this) be extensible to describe the quality of a being based on the nature of the being's actions. And distinct from this, there is good as opposed to bad, which can be used to describe a thing in terms of its desirability. For example, I would say that suffering a flu is bad, since while it may lead to some good (e.g., a better immune system), I don't think that suffering is desirable. That is, I don't think it should exist in a perfect world. In this discussion, I will capitalize the 'G' when I discuss Good as opposed to evil.

We see each meaning of (G/g)ood in the statement I began with, about pragmatism. In fact, pragmatism connects the two concepts in a way very natural to us. It connects the goodness of an outcome to the Goodness of the action, which I see as two different ideas of (G/g)oodness. In a way this connection is very natural, since our concept of good is rooted firmly in our daily sense experience of events that we either do or don't desire, while the concept of Good is rooted in the less concrete experience on mental imperatives. The connection is reinforced because we very easily transpose what we want (what we perceive as good) with what we think we ought to pursue (Good moral actions). Yet, I think that these two (G/g)oods are distinct and that the distinction is not artificial. Thus I disagree with the pragmatists, who believe that the Goodness of a moral action comes only from the good results it produces. And in light of that disagreement, I believe it is right to do Good, even if you cannot see any good coming from it.


In the circles within which I have most of my philosophical discussion, pragmatism, particularly as it relates to morality, is a doctrine considered so soundly repudiated that it calling someone a pragmatist is considered an insult (at least in jest). But, whenever I am pressed to say whether or not I am a pragmatist, I am at a loss. As I have said above, I am certainly not a pragmatist. But I do believe in a God who is both Good and good, and that He desires both Good and good in the world. Therefore, since both (G/g)oods spring from His character, and since He compels us to do Good, and since He desires good, and since He would not (at least overall) work against His own purposes, that there is a connection between doing Good and the increase of good in the world.

I think a similar connection between Good actions and good results might also follow from religions other than Christianity.

As I have said, I ought to do what is Good. But ultimately what all this comes down to is the question of how I, as a moral being of limited perception and prone to error, determine what is Good. As a human of sound mind, I can theorize in my mind what is good. As a human I have a conscience, which as a Christian I believe actually has some relevance to what is Good. And as a Christian, I also have been told what is Good by other people who ought to know better than I do, in the writings of the Apostles and those whom they taught, since they were taught by a God/man who we can actually expect to know something about it. I also have my ability to abstract from those writings some more general principles of Good. And finally, and most reliably, I have the continual persuasion of the Holy Spirit and His occasional specific imperatives to tell me to do Good.

So I have a wealth of sources of knowledge of Good, some universal to all humans, and most universally available to humans. But here are the problems:
1. I make mistakes with my theorizing. This is obvious, since I have changed my mind before.
2. A conscience is often vague, and can easily be impersonated my emotions, the mind, or both.
3. When I read, I interpret. When I read something from another time, I am less able to effectively interpret. Likewise when I read something from another culture. Unfortunately for me, Jesus became man in the Middle East 2000 years ago, and as interpretation is prone to error, more interpretation is prone to more error.
4. Since it is like a process of averaging or finding trends, abstraction can remove some of the errors caused by interpretation. But it is also prone to errors of its own.
5. The more I follow the Holy Spirit, the better I am able to discern His guiding. But I am a stubborn human being, and often do not follow the Holy Spirit. And I can think of a few occasions in the past where my own desire for a spiritual imperative has caused me to manufacture one rather than waiting for a real one. So even of revelation, which is the most pure way of knowing, I am a poor receiver.

In light of the problems with those approaches, I welcome any additional data that can help me to determine what is Good. And, while discarding much of pragmatism, its connection between goodness and Goodness -- when applied in what I consider a realistic light -- can serve this purpose. I think a suitable application is what we in the physical sciences called "validation". I'll give you an example from my own line of work.

When surveyors are helping with construction of a road, and they have to create a circular curve, one way of doing it is to figure out where the center of the circle that defines that curve would be. They then place an instrument that measures angles and distances at that central point (usually nowadays what is called a "total station"), and use it to place stakes along the curve at set intervals. A standard instrument could measure the locatons, e.g. for a circle of 200m radius to within roughly 5 mm. But even after these stakes are placed to a very high precision, they take a measuring tape and quickly verify that the stakes are where they sound be. This is because even the most experienced surveyor can make a blunder when placing the stakes. So, even though the quick check with a measuring tape can only determine positions to within a centimeter or so, it is useful to validate the more precise method.

We can apply a similar approach here. What if I make a mistake with my theorizing, my consciense gives no clear imperative, I interpret scripture in light of my presupposed theory and decide that it also agrees with me, my abstractions follow that interpretation in agreeing with my theory, and by then I am so dead set that my theory is right that I am not willing to listen to the Holy Spirit's opposition to it? I might, as far as I know, still be wanting to do what is right. And so, perhaps, I tell a homosexual friend that God does not love them and that they are going to Hell. (I am sure this situation happens, and am grateful that I have at least not fallen into this particular trap of self-constructed morality.)

Well, it might have been good for me to validate my results first by the good or bad that I could see resulting from them. I might have just ignored or imagined away bad consequences, but I also might have realized that I was likely to alienate my friend, make them think that God will never love them, and drive them away from a relationship with God until the end of their days. And those fairly obvious and likely bad consequences certainly seem to drown out any perceived good consequences. So the pragmatic check is worth pursuing.

And I don't only mean to say that it is worth checking the pragmatic results of actions in certain obscure situations. Thought the results of actions can be given less weight than the other moral ways or knowing I've listed above, if they are ignored entirely it is possible to live a cruel life and hardly realize that you are doing evil. Imagine if the surveyor laying out a curve in the road got one angle wrong and never checked his work? Over the course of many miles, the road could wind up going somewhere very different from where it was intended to. If validation is so valuable with a road, where the consequences are only cost and inconvenience, then it is certainly valuable with the moral course of your whole life. No useful data should be ignored.

(And no data used should be abused, as the pragmatists do.)

Current Mood: cold
Sunday, December 28th, 2008
12:13 am
Categories for cooking
I propose the following four categories as useful for the discussion of making and experiencing food. I call them my alternative four food groups:

1. Sugar (aka sweetness)
2. Fat
3. Flavour
4. Filler

Virtually any food consists of some combination of these. I'll give a few examples to illustrate how they can be used.

Pasta, plain bread or rice are mainly filler. Though they may have minor flavours of their own, and include minor fat and sugar components, their main quality is that they fill you up.

Pasta sauce (say, tomato sauce), on the other hand, has very little filler and fat components. It is ideally dominated by flavour (enough to fulfill the lack of flavour in the pasta), since flavouring is its primary function. It also includes a sugar component in this case to compliment the flavour component.

The butter you might put on a piece of bread has virtually no sugar component, and virtually no filler component. However, it may have an enjoyable flavour component and will certainly have a strong fat component.

A high sugar component (married with a flavour component) is seen in things like jam or syrup.

Any dish should have a suitable combination of these for its purpose. For example, if the primary goal of a dish is to fill your stomach, it should have a strong filler component. Then again, if the point it to be enjoyed, it will have stronger fat, flavour or filler components depending on the tastes you intend to satisfy. From a practical perspective, sugar components should be higher if quick energy is desired, and can be allowed to be higher with something (e.g. dessert) eaten in conjunction with a dish having high fat or filler components. Fat components are good for food eaten in conjunction with a lot of activity, where the fat is needed and will be used before it is stored. Furthermore, fat or sugar components (and even sometimes filler components) can sometimes compliment or accentuate flavour. Take for example adding sugar to black tea, which brings out the flavour; or using an oil in frying to help spread the flavours of various spices or vegetables throughout the dish.

Well, I was intending about 12 sentences, but it seems I've gone on for longer than that. Anyway, now you know the great secret of my inner thoughts when eating.
Sunday, April 20th, 2008
1:34 pm
A Good Woman
Well, I'm technically working hard today, but I wanted to post this.

People have a lot of different ideas about what makes a good woman, and a few conversations lately have made me think about what my concept is of a good woman. I've pretty much narrowed it down to two:

1. She is compassionate.
2. She is passionate about things she believes are important.

There are other things I could say, like being honest. But really these are the two are are most central as far as how I will feel about a person. The two things that really make me proud of anyone is seeing them caring about what they believe in, and seeing them showing compassion for others. It's no wonder I'm in love with Susan -- anyone who knows her should know how fully she embodies these two things :) </sappy>

(Note that these are neither supposed to be things I necessarily find attractive (though they are normally attractive), nor things which I think always make a person good in a moral sense. But when I see them acted out, there always forms a solid admiration in the pit of my chest.)
Wednesday, April 9th, 2008
3:37 pm
Principles of Life
While I was talking to Andrew at lunch today, I realized there are certain principles which I believe lead to a good life. I am quite bad at following some of these, but I believe if I followed them I would be a much happier and better person than I am right now. They may seem flaky.

1. Do not focus on yourself (i.e. be humble).
2. Remember that the world is messed up.
3. Take advantage of opportunities to do good in the world.
4. Remember that people tend to care more about themselves than you.
5. Always hope.
6. Don't give much weight to your perception of your capabilities.
7. Remember that everybody has their silliness, regardless of how serious they pretend to be. You don't have to be perfect, and if people see that you are flawed then at least they will know they are not alone.
8. Realize that anger or aggression are just forms of hurt, insecurity or concern.
9. Try to see the good in everything (while remembering #2 and it's implications). Find what is enjoyable in all of your experiences.
10. Remember that people are all people, and are largely in the same boat as you are.
11. Remember that just as you are living in the world as you experience it, so everyone else has their own world that they are living in.
12. Enjoy the good things in life. Enjoy food, both good and bad. Enjoy your body, and play with all the neat things it can do.
13. Let love drive you.
14. Do not be a slave to fear. Challenge your fears at every opportunity.
15. Try to listen more than you speak, and try to learn about others at the expense of sharing about yourself.
16. Get plenty of sleep (but enjoy sleeplessness when it happens).
17. Let yourself be moved by what moves you. Neither stifle nor manufacture emotions.
18. Don't be a slave to your hungers, whether they be for money, popularity, sex, food, or anything else.
19. Enjoy learning.
20. If you don't like how something is, either try to change it or accept it.
21. Don't try to change what you cannot change.
22. Accept that almost everything around you will change (including you).
23. Be gracious. Remember that you also make many mistakes, and do bad things.
24. Do both things you are bad at and things you are good at.
25. Be honest with yourself and with others.

Well, that's a nice round number. I hadn't realized how many of these I have stored up. I could go rhyming them off for hours. Maybe more later, if I'm in such a mood.
Sunday, March 9th, 2008
3:47 pm
On the Domestic Applications of Tai Chi
One of the cool things about Tai Chi is that it's very holistic. We learn a series of individual actions called forms, together comprising what is called The Form, which then have tons of applications. While the martial applications of the form are most prominent, and it's cool and all very manly to get a chance each weak to fight with people who are better at it than I am, the really neat thing has been realizing that there are all sorts of domestic applications as well. I'll list a few here:

1. Frozen peas. The easiest and most convenient way to break apart a clump of frozen peas when you take it out of the freezer is to set it down on a table or chair and give it a sharp strike with the heel of your palm. If it's done properly, it takes almost not strength (in fact, there's more strength required to raise your hand than to break things with it). The way it's done is part of a number of forms since it's a fairly fundamental movement. It is most noticeable to me in one called Brush Knee and Push. Martial applications include a downward strike or a (very easy and effective) parry. To do it, you basically raise your hand above the bag and then let your palm drop, as if it were to drop right through it. It is a sort of controlled drop in the sense that you direct it horizontally, but it won't be very effective if you try to use your strength to bring your hand down on the bag. It's a bit like chopping wood in that regard. Another key to doing it effectively is to not only extent your palm's heel from your arm, but also to extend it down from the direction of your finger tips.

2. Breaking ice. The palm-heel strike works well for this also, e.g. to get ice off of a banister. But what is also useful, and great for ice on steps or the ground, is the heel kick. The form where this is most evident is conveniently called Kick With Heel. A useful martial application is kicking out someone's knee. The basic idea, similar to the palm-hell strike, is that you just let your heel drop on something. Stand on one leg, slightly bent, and raise your other until the thigh is parallel to the ground with your foot hanging down below your knee. Then simply let your foot drop (don't try to push it down) in a controlled way, roughly straight down. As with the palm, extend your heel down not just from the direction of your leg but also from the direction of your toes. With this and the palm-heel strike, they are most effective if when you prepare (raise hand or foot) you inhale, and then accompany the strike itself with exhaling of breath.

3. Opening stuck doors. In the second residence I was at in Malawi this past summer, the bathroom door was very sticky. It was difficult to close, and once closed was difficult to open. At least, until I realized that Tai Chi could be applied here. Pulling and pushing effectively are part of numerous Tai Chi forms, more notably forms such as Grasp Bird's Tail and Slant Flying. Martial applications are obvious, and these forms are especially useful in grappling. So, basically there are two things here. In both cases, the key is that the motion comes from your hips. You pull something mainly by grabbing it and drawing your hips backward, and push mainly by putting your hand or shoulder on it and moving your hips toward it. Rotating your hips simultaneously in the appropriate direction is also important. For opening something, you accompany the hip movement by letting the elbow of the hand you've grabbed it with drop. For pushing, you can either use your shoulder (extend your arm diagonally away from what you're pushing if you want to do this comfortably), or place both hands on it while forming a circle with your arms. Expecially for pushing with your hands, alignment is important. Visualize the force of the push being transmitted from the ground, through your feet, in a straight line up the side of your body, through your arms, and into the thing you are pushing. Proper visualizing makes a surprisingly big difference.

Well, that's all for now. The are many others, such as lifting things, falling, doing hard work, walking on slippery stuff, reaching things that are far away, and so on. But I think I've illustrated some of the most useful (especially this time of year).
Sunday, December 9th, 2007
1:57 pm
I am convinced that my mission, and the mission of any Christian, is not effectively described in the concept of "witnessing". It is much greater than that. I believe that as a Christian I am meant to be an agent of good in the world. As a part of the body of Christ, it is the job of Christians to bring the Kingdom of God into the world now. This does not just mean recruiting people to the cause. It also means pursuing the cause. That means bringing more truth, virtue, beauty, love and grace into the world whenever I get a chance.

Maybe a lot of readers don't care about this, but it is something I think a lot of Christians need to hear, and to consider, even if they reject it. I am fed up with the idea that we should do good with the intention of converting people. Conversion is not an end, but a beginning.
Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
9:53 pm
Finding neat mathematical representations of my new age
So, it's my birthday, and how do I spend it? Well, I'd like to answer in the form of mathematical expressions:

a^3 > x > b^2 where x, a and b are integers and x is unique
(related, but a spoiler for the first one: x = 3^3 - 1^3 = 5^2 + 1^2)
x = 4! + 2!
x base 10 = 222 base 3
x^2 = 650 + x where x > 0
x = the sum from n=0 to n=inf of 4!*13^-n = the sum from 0 to inf of 13*2^-n
det(A/sqrt[x]) = 1 where A = [5 -1; 1 5]
(A/sqrt(x) is the rotation matrix corresponding to a rotation equivalent to the acute angle in the right angled triangle having sides of lengths 1 and 5 [and hypotenuse sqrt(26)])
x = (H(4) - 1)/2 - 4 where H(n) is the nth hex number

Are there an more? I'm looking for neat ones only here.

Current Mood: cheerful
Sunday, August 19th, 2007
3:18 pm
Gleanings from Various Podcasts
So, today I spent a lot of time practicing Bao (a popular Malaiwan, and apparently East and South African, game) and catching up on podcasts. Some things I enjoyed out of all that:

"Isaac, however, was not someone to let one disastrous foreign policy interfere with another." -- Lars Brownworth, "12 Byzantine Rulers: The History of the Byzantine Empire"

The gospels are not meant to describe the events of Jesus' life, but to show their significance. -- My paraphrase of part of part of a lecture from "History of Christianity I" by the Reformed Theological Seminary

"When I get home tonight, I'm going to conjure the numinous out of the quotidian!" -- Leo Laporte, "This Week in Tech"

"Now, Dostoevsky's going to existentialize God. He's getting more and more out of control!" -- Hubert Dreyfus, "Phil 7 - Spring 2006: Existentialism in Literature and Film"

(Also note: this is my first post using Frank, the LJ Bot. He has a very limited feature set (at 1 feature), but he was still kind of fun. I may or may not use him in the future though -- he's in dire need of an upgrade!)
Monday, August 13th, 2007
5:28 pm
Fredericton Busses (FB) vs. Mzuzu Matolas (MM): A Comparison
"The main advantage of a matola lift is not that it is cheaper than a bus, but that you will get to your destination more quickly. In my opinion, this is outweighed by the reality that many private vehicles are in poor repair and minibuses in particular are frequently driven by drunken lunatics. Our policy in Malawi and elsewhere in Africa is to use buses where we can, and to hop in the death traps only where we have no other option."

-- Malawi: the Bradt Travel Guide, 4th Ed.

Herein I present a comparison between the matola minibuses frequently used for transport in Mzuzu, and the city busses used for transport back in Fredericton. With no further ado:

FB: Stops at designated locations at regular intervals, so you always know where and when to wait.
MM: Stops if not packed full if you are standing on the same side of the road and respond affirmatively when they tell you their destination. Times are not predictable, but you can be picked up anywhere along your route.

FB: Follows its schedule within a range of a few minutes.
MM: Has no schedule.

FB: Generally plenty of space, with one seat per person. People stand if the run out of room. Always picks up people if those people are on its route.
MM: One specially modified seat may be made to fit a couple more people than it is designed for, and as many people are crammed in as possible. People stand or contort in various ways if they run out of room. If they run out of room they no longer pick you up.

FB: Costs $1.75 no matter the distances (i.e. equally cost-effective if you're traveling 6 km).
MM: Costs roughly $0.30/km.

FB: Runs between set hours each day, and not on Sundays.
MM: Runs every day, from as soon as drivers are willing to get up until whenever drivers are willing to go to sleep (i.e. most of the time).

FB: 99% chance of making it to your stop without breaking down.
MM: 99% chance of making it to your stop without a life-threatening accident. 95% chance of making it to your stop without an accident. 85% chance of not breaking down "permanently" en route. 50% chance of breaking down temporarily en route.

FB: Air is stale from air conditioning.
MM: Air smells like a mixture of gasoline, sweat, and a smattering of other fumes depending on the characteristics of the Matola and of the fellow passengers and their luggage.

FB: Drivers are always sober. It's probably a law or something.
MM: Drivers are probably sober 50% of the time. They're also probably reckless another 50% of the time.

In summary:

FB: Boring, anti-social, expensive, and rigid.
MM: Fun, social, cheap and unpredictable (spontaneous!).

Current Mood: cheerful
Monday, June 4th, 2007
10:47 am
Now see here
God's plan for the world does not end with you "being saved". It ends with His glorification through the restoration of all Good things. Your own life, even eternally, though it derives great importance by virtue of your importance to God, is relatively trivial in the scope of the Master Plan.

We live in a fallen world, and every sin maintains that fallenness. And our Justification by the blood of Christ only removes our guilt for our Sin; it does not remove the temporal consequences of our actions. Sin is still a very serious thing, and the pain we cause is still felt even if we have been forgiven. And so we cannot stop at sinning and being forgiven, but we must -- it is not an option -- go on to act as much as we can in accordance with God's plan so that we become less and less a part of the perversion of Good things, and more and more a part of their restoration. And we are enabled to do this despite often dismal odds because we have assurance that, even though it may seem that Good can never win and even though we may even die in the attempt to restore it, in the end it is Good that will triumph. In the end, "death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4b). And our endeavour is not hopeless at all. We have a hope born in the Ressurrection of Christ that even when it seems that the Light has gone out of the world, the Light can still be restored. Evil will destroy itself, and Good will win. But in any case, we must not content ourselves with the sacrificial death of Christ, but must go on to live the ressurrection, without which the problem of Sin would remain but half solved. The Body is not just about salvation for you or for anyone else. It is about the Glory of God through the restoration of Good in the world, begun by His beloved servants, and completed in the last days.

Finally I know the answer. When I sin, it causes pain, which persists even after God has forgiven me. But His plan for dealing with sin is not incomplete on that account -- it's just that I'm not following it. The plan is for my Sanctification also, so that I can become part of the restoration of the world, and not continue to be part of its downfall. And this happens not only for my benefit, but moreover for the glory of God, who alone is fully deserving to be glorified.

Current Mood: happy
Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007
5:37 pm
Two kinds of philosophizing, with applications to God
Philosophy can be used to engage reality, and can be used to escape reality.

In the first case, philosophy can be applied directly to understanding the real situations you deal with as a human creature. It can be used to try and see how things like love, God, beauty, pain, sorrow, and truth work. In this case, if done honestly, it is a tool with which to engage everyday situations. My metaphysical perspective, for example, leads me to see the world I currently inhabit as broken. So I do not mind so much when I am met with sorrow in life -- what else would I expect? It further informs me that there is a more substantial world beyond this one, of which the world as I know it is only a shadow. It informs me that the more real world is accessible to me, and that some day God (I believe in one) will call me home to that real world. It also informs me that I was actually designed for the real world, and not a broken world like this is. Thinking about these things (though thinking alone is inadequate) can help me to engage the things I experience every day, and is intimately related to my every interaction. And this does not only apply to what I believe is true.

Suppose I had a materialistic view of the world, i.e. if I believed that only the physical world as we experience it exists. I am not a materialist, although I have been close at other times in my life, and I would guess that as a materialist I would think that enjoying what I have in this world is quite important. My philosophical perspective would again intimately affect my interactions with the world. In fact, my philosophical engagement with the new information coming from my experience of life is itself a way of engaging the important things in the world.

The second kind of philosophy -- while still valuable -- is much less important, and can have negative effects if abused. That is the kind of philosophy which takes reality and removes the value from it by turning all things into objects of thought, and trying to place them into well-defined systems of thought. In one sense this is a necessary part of philosophizing. The problem is, if it is taken to the extreme, the connection between objects and systems which we create in our minds and the reality they are supposed to represent can weaken. Moreover, the systems we imagine are often easier to grasp than the reality. As a result, it is tempting to delude ourselves into thinking they are the reality and live in the world as if our delusions were true. In that case, instead of using philosophy to engage reality and to gain insight into what is really true, we are using it to escape from reality and from the truth. For people who enjoy thinking as much as I do, it can be quite addictive.

Now, for the promised applications to God. What Blaise Pascal converted to Christianity, after an experience which sounds like what I in my own life would call "being touched by God," he is reputed to have written a note expressing his emotions at the experience. Here is an excerpt:

"God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars...Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy...'This is life eternal that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.' Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ...May I not fall from him forever...I will not forget your word. Amen."

Why not God of the philosophers and scholars? Are the philosophers not right in defining God as the prime mover, omnipotent and omniscient? Is God not those things?

Of course He is. If you believe the Bible, He says as much, the very same God who in those pages spoke with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The contrast in Pascal's statement is between the God considered in the first kind of philosophy, and the God considered in the second. When I have experienced the presence of God, I have universally been aware of and often overwhelmed by a presence much greater than my own. If I try to engage Him philosophically, I approach the limits of my imagination, by which any philosophizing I might do is bounded. I believe I would reach those limits if I tried hard enough, and may have reached some of them in the past. The problem is that the cold objective descriptions of God by the philosophers do not do Him justice. They do not and cannot describe Him fully. If we consider God only as the philosophers define him, we are approaching Him with the weaker application of philosophy by defining Him in a safe and easy way. If, however, we engage the real God -- the wild, fierce, raw and loving God of both the prophets and fathers of the faith an the later philosophers of the Church -- rather than some aspects of Him, we can only do it through the first application. God is as real as anything gets. If we are to engage Him, we have to engage Him as we would reality, and not as we would play with thoughts.

Current Mood: sleepy
Tuesday, May 15th, 2007
7:30 pm
Why Mormonism is Appealing
Why does Mormonism get such a bad rap? Mormons have some questionable beliefs, sure, such as baptism of the dead. But at least they base it partly on the Bible (they believe it is referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:29), albeit through what I think is a rather bad interpretation of the text. And they find in the Bible no contradiction to this practice. Moreover, they take the doctrine more specifically from their own prophecies, which they do and should (if they are honest with themselves) accord an authority similar or equal to that of the Bible anyway. And at any rate, it is at least as well substantiated biblically as the transubstantiation which is part of the Roman Catholic doctrine. But yet the Mormons have the status of a cult.

Now, don't get me wrong. I disagree with sweeping vistas of Mormon theology. I am just questioning why Mormonism is seen as a "cult" (what an ill-defined term that is), when Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism, and other types of Christianity with some (to me) strange beliefs are not.

What I would like to do, rather than stating my objections to Mormonism (I'm sure the reader can find enough objections of his/her own out there), is say what I really like about it, and why I would like to be a Mormon. again, I also could create a similar list for why I do like being an Anglican, why I would like being Roman Catholic, etc. -- this does not mean that I find Mormonism the most appealing type of Christianity! It just means that I find appeal in it. So, to list:

1. Authority. This is what has also attracted me to Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism in the past, and is part of what I enjoyed about being a member of a charismatic church. Of course, I have now been called away from my charismatic church to one which heavily emphasizes personal interaction with God (at least, in my congregation). But it sure would be nice if there were some earthly authority to go to, like the Apostles in the days of the early church, who could give an authoritative answer to whatever questions I had. And it would be easy to know what doctrines were right if they were currently alive to state clearly what is right and wrong (there are certainly issues where the Bible is not clear!). Unfortunately, I believe that the apostolic authority has become far less meaningful due to centuries of transmission through humans, some of them very corrupt, if indeed the transmission was properly maintained at all.

2. Another testimony. Not only the ongoing testimony of the prophets, but moreover the Book of Mormon, while it is not much more clear to me than the Bible, would provide a new and valuable resource for better understanding what God wants us to know. As in surveying, with Biblical interpretation redundancy is an asset.

3. Authenticity (all of these starting with A's is purely coincidental!). It's not so much that the Mormon missionaries are hugely authentic (although Sister Kauo from the first pair was, and Sister Curtis seemed to open up more later, and one of the current Sisters seems to be doing likewise), but I very quickly met some really authentic people when attending their church. Also, because of Joseph Smith's experience with prayer (see below), authenticity in prayer is highly valued. I also think that's very important, and so this emphasis is very appealing to me.

4. Joseph Smith has a really cool story. Come see the DVD sometime if you're in Fredericton -- I asked for a copy, and of course they gave me one. He spent a long time searching for the right faith, and eventually it was revealed to him that all churches had been corrupted and the true church had to be restored (as the story goes). After that, there was some persecution and such. Kudos to him for going with his convictions and staying true to his calling, whether or not he was mistaken about it. Also, I could really connect with searching for the real church. I went through a big period of that for a while before God called me to one, and still wonder about it intellectually.

5. Dedication. Maybe it's symptomatic of a church which is confident that it has a hold of the truth, but the Mormons seem to really believe in what they are doing. I mean, very few churches these days so literally send out missionaries (two by two, following the Biblical precedent). And it was wonderful to be at a confirmation where the congregation acted exactly as if they believed that the candidate had received the Holy Spirit. I realize some or even most of what I'm seeing may have just been conditioning, but if it wasn't -- what a wonderful thing for a church to really wholeheartedly believe what they say!

Okay, that's enough for tonight. I reckon the list could be extended, but those come to mind.

A special note for any "conservative" Christian readers -- Mormons are very big on both chastity and abstaining from alcohol. In fact, those are their two special rules of life, given by latter day revelation. They also support a very literal interpretation of scripture, even of the Bible (though it is of course superseded, due to the fact that the Bible has been conveyed orally and translated, by the book of Mormon). So really, they believe many of the same things as you do.
Friday, April 20th, 2007
11:18 am
Things Not As They Seem
I am possessed of interesting thoughts relating to the recent university shooting in Virginia. I actually haven't followed it very closely, so my interesting thoughts may be far off base.

First, it seems that violence has again brought out the best in humanity along with the worst. One professor held a door closed against the gunman while students escaped. I only hope I would be so brave and clear thinking.

Second, this is not the greatest tragedy of the week. Just today 200 people were killed by bombs in Baghdad. The college shooting is only making such a splash because it happened in the United States, and we care more about those nearer to us. While recognizing that any human death is a weighty thing, let's not allow our concern to prevent us from having an accurate perspective. On another rant you may or may not hear, I believe the same sort of egocentric emotional response is what is making so many Americans want to pull out of Iraq, although historical precedent vividly shows that such a course of action could be deadly (in a very literal way) for Iraq itself. I was against the invasion, but now that it has happened the thing to do is not to pull out and leave a tattered nation to fend for itself.

Third and foremost on my mind are some attempts I have heard of to explain the shootings in Virginia. Of course, evil video games were cited almost as a knee-jerk reaction, until it came to light that the shooter was not in fact possessed of (or should I say, by) any video games. What evidence was the initial assertion based on? Very meager evidence, at any rate. Whatever filtered through the news on the day of the event. While the hearts of some of those claiming to know the cause of this evil event may be in the right place, it would benefit us all if their minds were in that place too.

Another interesting and nearly as immediate reaction was to blame gun control policies for not being strict enough. While I find that my Christian beliefs align me most often with "liberal" ways of thought, in the case of gun control I believe for a variety of reasons, some pragmatic and some not, that strict gun control is a bad idea. As a result, I naturally disagree with the allegations of loose gun control creating conditions in which the shooting could occur. In fact, if guns had been allowed on the campus, odds are that at least one other student would have been carrying one, and been able to shoot the assailant, most likely saving a number of lives. Now, some have pointed out that one of the guns used by the assailant was legally purchased. But there were two guns, and presumably the second gun could have been obtained illegally if it were legally unobtainable. And of course some will always say that if there were no guns there would be no shootings. But of course this does not preclude other forms of violence, and it is furthermore impossible to actually prevent everyone from having firearms. You may prevent law-abiding citizens from carrying them, but the law abiding citizens are the ones who are least likely to use them with violent intent.

Now, I should say this, lest you think I see this issue as more black-and-white than it is: while in the particular case of the Virginia shooting it seems that allowing students to have guns could only have reduced the loss of life, I recognize that loss of life is not the only consideration in morality, and that while allowing guns may have helped in this situation it may have also allowed numerous smaller shootings over a period of time which would have made up in terms of death toll for this single incident. I do not think that less gun control is an answer to these school shootings, only that they should not be taken as reasons for gun control to be increased.
Sunday, March 18th, 2007
4:16 pm
Used CD shopping rocks (literally and figuratively)
I don't actually have much to say this entry. My previous one was much more interesting. I will say that I am curious these days about how the wording of prayer affects the person who is praying. I am also curious what might be a good single word for "person who is praying". "Petitioner" only seems to cover one aspect of prayer, and obviously "prayer" is going to get confusing.

In other news, I have realized that one of my favorite things to do is used CD shopping. There's a store in Fredericton called Digital World where you can buy used CDs at prices from $1 to $8 each. On one hand, I consider this the best way to extend my legal music library -- it is cheap, and there is far more variety than I would find in many CD stores. I might do better online, but then I have to wait for the CDs to arrive -- maybe if there are things (like something with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler -- Laura, you may now vomit) which I really want, I'll eventually order them online. On the other hand, I really simply enjoy doing it. First, there's the fun of recognizing songs left, right and center while looking through row upon row of CDs. Then, from the many which at first seemed so important to buy, there's the puzzle and personal introspection of figuring out which ones fit within the money I expected to spend (which I tend to increase by up to 20%). Then there's going to the desk and hearing all of their comments on my selection. It's like some kind of intimacy (not of a romantic kind!) to expose others to your musical taste (especially a weird and varied taste like mine) and have them comment on it. It's both scary and satisfying. And finally, there's the fact that, at least a Digital World, you feel like part of a community while you're there. Probably the friendly background of banter between the staff and the more frequent customers, the bumping into people in the restrictive alleys around the CD trays, the brief exchanges of comments about some CD that you or someone else happens to be looking at, and of course the background music of a steady flow of musicians "trying out" second hand instruments by playing whole songs on them. It really is an amazing experience.

(Not all of these things all happen every time, although sometimes they do, and when they're all going on together the experience is at its most amazing.)

In related news, Digital World also sells cheap DVDs and VHS tapes. Yesterday I bought 3: Hidalgo, Saturday Night Fever and Kung Fun Hustle. The first I passed on watching a couple of years ago, and have regretted it ever since. The second I watched because I have heard that it was a pivotal movie and defined the disco era, of which I have heard many jokes and scornful comments without ever experiencing it. The third was recommended to me repeatedly, mostly by students from Memorial University in Newfoundland. It's a Chinese comedy made available in North America, and I'm curious what it will be like in comparison with the Chinese martial arts films I've seen in the past.

I watched Saturday Night Fever last night (appropriately, on a Saturday night) and actually enjoyed it immensely. I hadn't realized how grungy disco was before it became mainstream. I thought it would be a sort of fun, goofy movie; but it turned out to be very serious and engaging. Some nasty fights, lots of sex and sexual frustration, family troubles, identity crises, a possibly suicidal death, nasty stuff. Bringing beautiful meaning out of a place you would never expect to find it -- kind of like Pulp Fiction or the Gospels. There were even some neat points about Christianity with the disillusioned priest brother of Tony, the main character. Oh, and some very amazing dancing, and some great disco music which I (to my shame, many would say) rather enjoy.

Well, now I'm off to do some programming before I go home for supper and to try and get Microsoft Word to work again (just today, it keeps quitting very shortly after I open it -- I figure a reinstall should do the trick).
Thursday, March 15th, 2007
9:51 am
Two+ kinds of people
I'm not sure what I want to say about them, but I want to describe them.

Person type A sees their life as a series of challenges. They consider themselves a successful person, and therefore expect to meet all the challenges and fulfill their vision of what success means. If they fail in some way to meet a challenge, they write it off as a step on the way to greater success -- "part of the learning process" -- and continue. Inadequacy may nibble at them briefly, but is quickly brushed off with such rationalizations as mentioned. They have strong confidence that they are able to meet all the challenges which come before them, and this confidence drives them through life. This type of person can potentially do many great things, and bring a lot of good into the world, if their drive is directed towards doing good things (i.e. if their image of a successful person includes helpfulness, kindness, benevolence, etc.). I am not this kind of person, although many (most?) graduate students are.

Person type B has been broken. For whatever reason, at some point in their life they have come up against their own shortcomings in a way that they were not able to rationalize or avoid. This may have happened only once, or many times, but in any case it has happened enough that this person truly understands and believes that there are challenges they simply cannot meet. They see their failures, and are humbled as a result. But, they have a desire or a commitment (or both). And the desire burns so brightly or the commitment is so firm, and is so important to them, that when they fix their eyes on it their failures become in a sense irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether they will fail to achieve that desire, or fail to honor that commitment -- the desire or commitment itself is so important that they will keep striving for it anyway, no matter what happens. In a sense, having been so overwhelmed by the desire or commitment, they cannot help trying to follow it. This is me at my best, when I am trying to help others or to be closer to God.

Now, there is also a third kind of person. This is person C. Person C is very much like person B, but they either lack the desire or commitment (which may be possible, although I am not always sure), or they have been distracted from it to the point that they see instead the hopelessness of reaching it (or at least the perceived hopelessness). Or, they have become convinced somehow that their desire or commitment is empty, and feel the despair of being totally dedicated to something empty. And there may be other options. But for whatever reason, this person's focus has switched to their own brokenness, and they have as a result entered into despair. This is me at my worst. And at its worst, this condition leads to not caring about anything, right or wrong, good or bad, until the cycle is broken; and can lead easily to mere slavery to physical wants or needs. This must be avoided at most costs.

And finally, read also what Saint Paul saith:

"Not that I have already obtained [Christlikeness] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

Sometimes I think that if I could just understand the Bible better, it would save me a lot of thinking...
Friday, March 2nd, 2007
10:21 am
The Plan and The Adventure
In the interests of informing all concerned parties about Arturo and my itinerary for walking to Moncton, I'm posting it here.

The plan right now is to walk 30-40 km per day, or more if that much is easy. I haven't walked on roads for a while, so I'm not sure how fast I can go these days -- I reckon Arturo can go about the same speed as myself. It's 173 km to Moncton along the route we plan to take, which should therefore take us between just over 4 days, and just under 6 days. I reckon we can walk 4-6 km/hour, so we'd be walking between 5 and 10 hours per day -- probably at least 8, and if we go faster we'll go farther. Possibly up to 12.

As for the route, we will start by taking the walking bridge across the river very early Saturday morning, then follow the old highway (Route 105) either to exit 333 (48 km) or right through to Jemseg. If we get off at 333, we'll take the new highway to Jemseg; otherwise the old -- both ways are about 6 km. If possible, we'll get to Jemseg on the first day; otherwise, we'll have to stop and sleep along the way.
Once we hit Jemseg, we'll follow the new highway (Route 2/Trans-Canada). We might go as far as exit 365 (Coles Island), and then follow Route 10 south until it intersects with Route 112 ("The Coles Island Cutoff"). We also might leave the Trans-Canada about halfway between Mill Cove and Bagdad and take a back road until we hit Route 10, before proceeding to Route 112, etc. This leg, if we follow the major roads, is 29 km (to Coles Island). We can probably finish it by the end of day two.
Next, we'll follow Route 112 right through to Salisbury, where we'll get back on the Trans-Canada at exit 433. This is the longest stretch -- about 71 km. It will probably take about 2 days of walking. Hopefully we can end it off with a meal at the Big Stop at the Salisbury exit :)
Finally, we'll follow the Trans-Canada (Route 2) to the Gorge St. exit for Moncton (exit 452). This will be an extra 19 km, which we should be able to do easily on the last day (although we'll probably stop somewhere either a little before or a little after Salisbury). Then, we'll turn North from the exit, and find Arturo's sister at ABU, and relax.

Water will be easy along Route 112 -- before and after that we'll either buy it, or use taps if they seem safe (maybe with filtering?).

Given that we're leaving on Saturday, we expect to be finished on Wednesday at the earliest, and Friday at the latest. We expect to reach ABU on Thursday. Hopefully things will go much better than expectations, but it is an adventure after all, so who knows?

Current Mood: excited
Sunday, February 25th, 2007
11:54 am
Not a Mormon Yet
Well, after a bunch of prayer and a bit of scripture, and a game of pond hockey that seemed to clear my head out nicely, I still hadn't gotten any answers about Mormonism. So I remain unbaptized in that church. I do have two related "answers" though.

First, I believe that I am supposed to back off from talking to the Mormons for a while, and take time to investigate the things they've told me on my own. This should be easy since I'll be taking a long walk next weekend and so won't be able to go to the church or to meet with them. The second thing is that I need to be more pure if God is going to be a big part of my life again. I mean really, I'm hardly even trying right now. How am I supposed to know if my Holy Spirit is the same as what the Mormons talk about if I haven't allowed Him to be part of my life for a few years? No more skirking responsibility, if I want God to be present to me then I have to stop rejecting Him by my actions. Unfortunately, I don't expect much support in this from anywhere -- I'm currently very disillusioned with Christianity as a whole, and in particular the tendency to interpret scripture so that it agrees with your doctrines rather than honestly searching the Bible and to only love the people whom it is convenient to love rather than those who most need it. I realize that I am guilty of these too, and it's easy to pick on the things Christians do wrong without looking at myself. However, I do believe that as Christians we can be very prone to these errors, and should at least try to avoid them, but since they seem so prevalent and many Christians seem either unaware of them or otherwise unwilling to work against them, I don't expect a great deal of help from most of the Christian community in learning what is right and acting on it.

Well, wish me luck, and especially that I continue to be dedicated to this (since dedication is not my strong suit).
Friday, February 23rd, 2007
12:44 pm
Honesty and Open-mindedness
A lot of people didn't seem to understand this when I told them, so I'm going to broadcast it to the world and maybe that'll get all the ranting out of me. The world being the very limited subset of humans who read my livejournal. *cough* Moving on.

So, I've been talking with Mormon missionaries for the past couple of months. They seem like pretty cool people, and their theology is in many ways very much like my own. Mind you, there are some notable differences, in particular with their notion of heaven, their belief in an absence of prophets since the apostles died, and their belief in a new and continuing line of prophets (Joseph Smith may well have been a prophet, the Book of Mormon (though this seems less likely to me) may well be inspired in the same way as the Bible, it's just the continuing line of prophets as apostles that I take issue with at this point). I have various reasons for not believing these and some other minor things which they teach, but I fully believe that the Mormons whom I have met so far are committed Christians who are at least as active in their faith as I am. And there is one thing which they promise and which I want very much right now: a closer relationship with God.

Now, I've had some sort of relationship with God since I first became a Christian, but it's been slipping. And I have some awareness of the Holy Spirit, which was very active in my life for the first four months that I was a Christian, but has been mostly absent since. But what the Mormons tell me is that if I am baptized into their church in a baptism with the proper authority of the prophet, and am confirmed by the laying on of hands, then I can have a better relationship with the Holy Spirit. Now, for various reasons I'm skeptical, namely that when Mormons talk about their special access to the Holy Spirit it sounds like something I've already experienced -- at least for that first four months. Since then, the Holy Spirit has not been so present, probably because of my returning to sinful behaviors. This also is indistinguishable from how the Mormons say their Holy Spirit would act. So, I'm skeptical that they are offering something new. But, if they are offering some new and better relationship with God, then I want that very much and desperately.

They asked me to prepare myself for baptism for February 24 (tomorrow), by which they meant that I should pray for the truth of the Book of Mormon and the modern prophets to be revealed to me, and to try to be pure. Those things, so far, I have done -- to my great benefit. But, I am not yet ready to accept their beliefs on an intellectual level, since they seem wrong. And my prayers have yet yielded no answer. So there's no way right now that I should go and get baptized.

Here's where people misunderstand. I have to allow the possibility that the Mormons' beliefs are right and that I am wrong. This is important, because if they are right I can have something that I desire greatly -- a closer relationship with God. That is something very important, and therefore I have to be all the more open to the possibility, and all the more ready to accept it if God tells me that I should. Otherwise, I am being very dishonest even praying about it, if I'm only looking for God to vindicate my current beliefs. Furthermore, I have to structure my life so that, if God tells me to, I can still be baptized on the date that they and I have been praying about, which is tomorrow. So, for example, I can't commit to seeing a friend do a sermon on Sunday morning, because it is more important that I am available for Mormon church at that time.

The reaction which I am getting to these things is very disappointing. Just about everyone, Christian or otherwise, who I talk to either starts making Mormons out to believe ridiculous things (honestly, people rarely believe anything that's ridiculous from their perspective -- you're just making Christians look bad by trying to say that they do), or tells me that I shouldn't even be considering their beliefs and acting as if what they believe might be right, or acts all concerned for me, or otherwise acts awkward. I don't get it. How can I not be open minded about this? Why does nobody want me too? I guess they're concerned that I'll go down the "wrong path", but how can they think that theirs is better? And why don't they trust God to tell me what's right? The only thing I can think is that they don't trust my discernment, and while a valid concern, I can assure everyone that I'll try my best to be discerning about something so important, and all I can do is be honest about it. Why are you trying to discourage me from going to God with an open heart? It certainly won't help your cause any. It's nice if people are concerned for me, but if they really want to help me they should let me openly go to God for answers.

And on another but related note, I've just about had it with everybody oversimplifying the beliefs of others to make them sound less reasonable. I do it too, and I'm pretty frustrated with myself for it, let me tell you! Stop doing that! If you want to know what people believe, go and talk to them about it, and try as much as possible not to follow your preconceived notions when they turn out to be untrue.

Current Mood: Rantful
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