Monthly Archives: April 2009

Shyness

Posted by David

In an earlier post, I implied that shyness is an outgrowth of vanity. Why is it important to realize this?

As a child many of us are shy and this sort of shyness is clearly an important part of a child’s development. We hide behind the legs of our parents to keep physically safe from those things that can hurt us. It would be careless for children to not be careful around other kids and adults. This type of shyness is an important developmental characteristic.

In adults, however, shyness is an outgrowth of vanity. As we morphed from the child to the adult, if our shyness remains it takes on altogether different characteristics of the shyness of a child. I’m speaking for myself here and my experience, which may not be yours. But I expect that it is applicable to many of those who are shy adults. Also, let’s not confuse shyness with being a quiet person. We’re talking about a state of anxiety with shyness.

Each of us have a particular identity that we think of ourselves. Call this a self-visualization. We picture ourselves as something usually in relationshiop to someone. We say to ourselves I want to look this way or that way for this person or that person. Sometimes we have divergent self-visualizations based on who are trying to impress (or simply relate to). This can get us into relationship strife. This is one reason why some teenagers don’t want to be ‘seen’ in public with their parents. The parent has known much of the true child all his or her life. The teenager has created a new self-impression for the group to which he or she is trying to belong.

Divergent self-images not only causes problems in relationships, but they also cause trouble to the self. By focusing on these differing self-derived self-images, especially when we have multiple ones, we actually can become people who we are not meant to be. We become a person who we think others want us to be. We run around daily putting on different faces. How tiring can that be!

In post-modern culture, there’s a tendency to believe that one should find out who one is. Adolescents and adults alike spend much time trying to become someone unique. However, we are special and unique based on our relationships to others and to our environment. We don’t need to find out who we are. We just need to stop being someone who we think others want us to be. We need to stop putting on the different faces for different folks.

What does this have to do with shyness? As adults we can become shy because we are afraid to bust the self-image that we have provided to others or that we want to provide others. We are afraid to fail that self-imposed, family-imposed or culturally-imposed image. We are afraid that people will see us at our best: humble. Our shyness comes out of fear of humilation. But it is in our humiliation that we can truly become children of God.

We don’t need to manufacture who we are for others. It is our self-image factory that needs to be abandoned. God has made each and every one of us unique and we are unique only in our relationship to his children.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

– Matthew 5:8

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Skepticism

Posted by Mike

I know – we can predict how we are likely to respond to statements in the future, but we really can’t know until we get there. I am a skeptic, expect I’ll always be a skeptic, and I think it’s a useful attitude to have. It’s not a fail-safe to prevent being conned, but goes a long way to limit being fooled or to responding naively to what we hear or what we read. The word is derived from the Greek, “skeptikos,” meaning to examine, to consider, to look about. My American Heritage Dictionary defines a skeptic as One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions. The American Heritage definition of “skepticism” tells us that it is The philosophical doctrine that absolute knowledge is impossible and that inquiry must be a process of doubting in order to acquire approximate or relative certainty.

My take on skepticism is that the more concrete and present in the here and now something is, the more we can take whatever we’re considering at face value. The less concrete and objective and the more we are talking about ideas, values, or opinions, the more cautious we need to be in accepting what is offered. I guess I respect a scientific orientation most of all in its approach to certainty. In science, certainty is never achieved, but approximations are; and over time, with refinements, approximations are considered to get closer and closer to “truth” or relative certainty.

Two kinds of information sources irk me particularly, newspaper editorials and religious sermons. They both tend to be polemical , presenting an argument of some sort, and moving to a conclusion (kind of like what I am doing right now!). Both often seem to present themselves as objective – you might say “fair and unbiased” – and yet invariably if you look beyond the surface, a case is made for one side of the argument, and any objections that might be developed are discounted immediately as having no merit. They are intended to be persuasive. My thinking is that if we’re going to have a discussion or consider an issue, let’s look at all sides of the issue, the pros and cons. I don’t see that we get that in either editorials or sermons. Some might well say, “Of course not, you fool! That’s not the purpose of sermons or editorials. The purpose of these avenues of communication are to present a strong case for an idea, a position, a perspective.” I have to grant you that you are right about that. You’re not likely to ever hear a sermon in which the preacher starts out by saying something like, “What I’m about to tell you might not be true. So after I present my case, I’m going to take the opposite position and I want you to voice your perspective, just so we’ll have a fair presentation.” Likewise, the editorial writer is not likely going to say (Let’s say the writer is a Republican), “You know, Obama may be right regarding this issue, but let me tell you the way I see it; and then I’ll review the case for the Administration’s position.”

It’s interesting how in religion and politics, so often with most of us, any effort at being objective is out the window at the start of any kind of thinking or talking process. Let me make one other thing clear. I’m not advocating for a complete “not knowing” position. I do think that we seldom “know” anything for sure, especially when we’re dealing with abstractions or complex events, but we often do need to come to some kind of position on issues. If we didn’t we would forever remain in stasis, never be able to make a decision, and never be able to act. Dealing with realities in the world, it is necessary to act. We do it all the time. And we act on what we see as the best possible choice from (often) a multitude of options, given the information that we have at the time. And the information that we use in making a decision should be as broadly based as possible, to give us as clear a perspective on whatever the issue is that we can get. Do sermons and editorials give us this?

The most famous skeptic in ancient history was Pyrrho, the Greek, who was born about 360 BC. Pyrrho believed that certainty is not attainable and that the wise person will suspend judgment and will seek tranquility rather than truth. He also believed that since no theories can be proved, one is left with the best choice of accepting the myths and conventions of one’s own time and place. There were many other Greek skeptics and schools associated with the skeptics. The Sophists as far back as the fifth century BC were in the main skeptics. Pyrrho’s position regarding accepting the myths and conventions of one’s own time and place might have been a practical and workable solution back in the fourth century BC, but seems a recipe for disaster in the present day, I guess because so many of our conventional ideas seem unworkable, for example, notions such as “The best solution to the drug problem in our country is…” (take your pick here); or “Our system of government is the best in the world. We need to export it and demand its presence everywhere”; or “It’s obvious that (take your pick of religions) is the true religion”; or (generically) “We’re the good guys. The others are the bad guys.”

The scientific method is a systematized approach to seeking truth that is basically skeptical.  It has to do with observation, collecting data, developing hypotheses, and creating experiments to test hypotheses.  Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species provides the reader with a picture of the scientific approach at work in the mind of a brilliant researcher, data collector, and theoretician.  Darwin takes the reader with him from observation, inductive gathering of data, coming to general conclusions, deductive hypothesizing, experimenting to test hypotheses, developing conclusions, and theory construction. Many of Darwin’s examples from the early 1800’s and his detailed descriptions make it clear that the scientific approach was already quite sophisticated in the England of his time, especially in the areas of plant and animal hybridization and breeding and in agricultural land management.

Truth is elusive, likely forever elusive. We humans are a vulnerable and insecure lot, and we always feel safer in the world with knowledge and certainty. It seems to me that we are much better off with cautionary, approximate certainties, with a skeptical approach. It is when we become too firmly convicted that we do stupid things, like start wars, burn heretics at the stake, utilize projection and blame the other guy, become self-righteous and judgmental. I suspect that with some practice we humans can tolerate more uncertainty than we think we can. Were we to see everyone as brothers and sisters, acknowledging and struggling with uncertainty, we would be more compassionate and feel safer in tackling the unknowns together.

“Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.”      George Santayana (1863-1952)

“When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others.  It is much more nearly certain that we are assembled here tonight than it is that this or that political party is in the right. Certainly there are degrees of certainty, and one should be very careful to emphasize that fact, because otherwise one is landed in an utter skepticism, and complete skepticism would, of couse, be totally barren and completely useless. ”    –  Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), “Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?”, 1947

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Photons Eternal

Posted by David

Greens and blues and reds silently blossomed and folded in and among themselves. I lay on the warm summer pavement of the Hurricane Ridge Road stiff in awe. Shimmering whites melted into darkness and pinpoints of starlight. In the northerly midnight blue sky shined the bright lights of Victoria and more green and blue auroras, held motionless due to distance.

What is light anyway? Is it timeless or of all time. I have this notion that all light is from the same source and all light is the same light, shining from a point broader than our universe itself. That, unlike snowflakes, every photon is exactly alike. Are we light also, timeless beings, manifest in the flesh?

I came to the Peninsula desiring beauty and adventure. As a lustful, dreamy young man, I was fearless in my pursuit of truth, walking in pride and youthful ambition. Now I’m ready to find what I’ve been seeking: a way back to the heaven of Eden, where our nakedness was normal, where the façade of Man is no more, and where truth shines in a timeless world, where the relentless waters of this world no longer lap with thirst toward progress. I long for that world, where technology, the pride of mankind and the lust of the deceitful, is not a cog in the universe. Can we get back to Eden where my hands can glean the fruits of the earth without the reaper’s sickle?

The path back to Eden is probably too simple for our corrupt minds to imagine. Is it a metamorphosis that requires our patience in a cocoon? Who has that kind of patience? Who has that level of sacrifice?

I long to go back to Eden, but the past is a shadow world, one probably not of the current reality. Like memories, the past is a scarred. The hard truth is crammed into hidden places, burned, hung and crucified. To return to Eden, must we traverse that dark, cloudy, uncertain, undefined, empty, half-erased, and colorless landscape? Is there anyone who could make that journey?

I suppose the journey could be through the ‘now’ like some would lead us to believe. But the now is ever-fleeting and never enterable. The moment our minds grasp the now, it’s gone in the past, or else it must be held in some sort of static, dead state.

Is the journey back to Eden a march forward? Then what direction must we go? Which signposts lead us in error and which signposts lead correctly.

What I do know is that we will get there. Eden will not be like it was in the past. It won’t be like our visions of the future. And it won’t be like our vision of the present. But it will contain all the good, all the lovely, all the awsome archetypes that our minds can behold.

The only reason I know this is due to hope I have in Jesus Christ. I know nothing any other way.

Photo by Donald R. Pettit

Photo by Donald R. Pettit

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When Song Breaks Forth

Posted by David
Jan Miense Molenaer (ca. 1610-1668), Young musicians and a dwarf

Jan Miense Molenaer (ca. 1610-1668), Young musicians and a dwarf

I have this notion—whether it is true or not I cannot know—that humans beings sang before we spoke. It may be that I like the idea, so I hope it to be true. It may be that my experience with spoken language makes me desire something more from language.  

Language has been a positive characteristic of my humanity when it was simply about relating to others. In those times when I used my words in context with others for good, it was like touch, like a warming fire or like a satisfying meal. But language has also been a means of pain in my life. I’ve used simple words to hurt others. Haphazardly, I’ve spread gossip’s life-eating fire. I have fought with words, scarring myself and others. Too often in my life this has been the purpose of language.

But on the other hand, song and singing is so elementary, so fundamental that it is more difficult to be corrupted. You can’t make a A minor chord sound like a C major. If A minor notes come out, you’re going to get a solemn feel. The intended feeling within a made-up tune is difficult to disguise. Singing speaks from the heart, especially singing without words. Our personal tunes tell our personal stories that reside in the deepest places.

Why do we have such a range of notes in our vocal chords? Did those evolve for speech or did they develop for our voice of song? I expect the latter. I also expect that human words and spoken languages emerged simultaneously with other forms of human disguise. Like our clothes, words can hide our naked reality, our humility, our strengths and weaknesses. For out of our song we cannot disguise our heart’s story, but with words, we can cloak our heart’s story with various meanings—some true and some false. There was a time in our history when spoken words began to hide the truth of our heart. This is probably why our languages are not sing-songy. Our words have only slight ups and down. For the most part they are monotonal. With monotonal speech we are less likely to give away something that we’re hiding.

The beginning of language was also probably the beginning of History. At that point we could tell stories. Our words could be packed with meanings both true and false.  Our stories could travel through time embedded in language itself. History, once initiated, took to life and we now see it written on our faces, in our stories, and in the landscape itself.  But with that new beginning something else died to make it happen: the free life of the human heart was crushed.  This what happen to us after what the Bible calls the Fall.

History now cloaks the truth. It hides our roots. It covers over what we are intended to be just like words are able to conceal the human heart. But there will be the day when History dies completely and what will break forth will be the most beautiful song you have ever heard.

Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. 

Zephaniah 3:14

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Star Ferry

Posted by Mike

You can visit New York City, Boston, London, Paris, or Rome, and not ride the subway, but everyone who has visited Hong Kong has been on their not so rapid water transit system, the Star Ferries. This is because the two most important areas of Hong Kong for visitors and locals alike – Hong Kong Island and Kowloon – are on opposite sides of the harbor and are mainly connected by ferry. I haven’t been on a Star Ferry since 1959, but from recent pictures, it appears that the same ferries are still being used. When I was in the Navy the ship that I was stationed on visited Hong Kong several times in the 18 months that I was aboard it.  So I got to see the city back when there was considerable stress between the British Crown Colony and Red China and there was relatively little commercial trafficking between the mainland and the Crown Colony. Nevertheless, even then the city and Kowloon together were a bustling metropolitan center that was equal to any urban center elsewhere.  The striking thing that one noticed in coming in from the South China Sea was that it was generally foggy and cool and we began to see Chinese junks as soon as our ship began to weave in and out of the rather jagged islets that marked the passage toward the island. Before long we were surrounded by junks.  For an American in the late 50’s it was like being in another world. We would arrive in the harbor and anchor. The activity in the harbor never ceased, with a multitude of junks constantly moving back and forth relaying cargo from the many anchored freighters, and small sampans going to and from Hong Kong to the anchored ships and Kowloon. There was always a variety of larger cargo and military ships, like ours, anchored out from the piers. In 1959 Hong Kong was a center of commercial activity; there were high rise office and apartment buildings both in central Hong Kong and in Kowloon; it was a great city, even then, 50 years ago!

One of my favorite activities when I had free time and could leave the ship was to take the launch to the pier and make my way to the inclined railway up Victoria Peak. You could take the incline to the very top; there were not many tourists or local people up on the Peak back then.  There was a narrow one-lane road – more like a paved path – all the way around the peak, used by strollers and an occasional vehicle, and few houses up at that level.  Once, I remember having to make way for a Morris Minor that was wending its rather precarious way to home at dusk around the peak. There was no space on either side of the car for pedestrians. The view from the top of Victoria Peak was spectacular. You could see all of the island of Hong Kong, over to Kowloon and off to the Chinese mainland. On the side opposite from the harbor was Aberdeen, a harbor filled with junks and sampans, including a number of floating restaurants that were popular with both locals and tourists.

Once I decided to walk down from the top of the Peak. It was an easy stroll and allowed one to move gradually down through forested areas past sumptuous high-rise apartment buildings and then to the business section of the city. I remember dropping down through the woods and being confronted with a large cathedral, massive in size, but dwarfed by its proximity to the mountainside, which was rising at about a 45 degree angle. Perhaps by accident, whenever we visited the weather was cool, the sun bright, the water a spectacular blue-green; the English folk were always playing crochet on manicured turf, or cricket on fields that were so green they looked dyed.

To get from the island of Hong Kong to Kowloon one always took the Star Ferry. It only cost a few cents and was about a ten minute ride. You could ride in either first class, with the moneyed people, or 2nd class, where the less fortunate traveled. I remember riding both. When you were in second class, you were with the poorer Chinese and the goods they were transporting, and you might not find a place to sit or place yourself. 

Travel opens us up to new ways of seeing the world, of viewing our own society and culture, and to new possibilities for ourselves. Surprisingly, we can find the same kinds of challenges and discoveries much nearer to home, if we are willing to stray off of our well-worn personal paths. However, I’ll recommend Hong Kong any time.  I think I’ve got a token for the Star if you’re planning on going!

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Zephyr Evening Skies

Posted by David

san_luis_cloudset

In the quiet time of the earthshadow rise,
When the blue curtain covers the daylight,
The Zephyrs come out to play,
And are called in to blow out the lights.

As dolphins swim in evening water
Quietly slapping the water with their fins
And playing chase with their brothers and sisters,
So plays the Zephyrs in their plum and peach gowns.

The horizon’s lightball watches their silent play,
Always silhouetting the creatures in their task.
Their tails sweep above the land;
That last yawn rolls across the quiet sagebrush.

As they play in the waves of the great earthshadow,
Can they hear vesper sparrows sing goodnight?
Do they know their Maker and task-giver is nigh?
Zephyrs swim where daytime meets the night.

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