Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Who telled you of the Valley?" said Tutu. "No horowitz doed it, because none haved speech until you teached them how to talk. Who telled you?"

"The man doed it," replied Carmody. "Him goed there."

"The man who comed from the stars? The man me seed you talking to that night?"

Carmody nodded, and she said, "Him have knowledge of where us go after death?"

He was caught by surprise and could only stare, open-mouthed, at her a few seconds. Holmyard was an agnostic and denied that there was any valid evidence for the immortality of man. Carmody, of course, agreed with him that there was no scientifically provable evidence, no facts. But there were enough indications of the survival of the dead to make any open-minded agnostic wonder about the possibility. And, of course, Carmody believed that every man would live forever because he had faith that man would do so. Moreover, he had a personal experience which had convinced him. (But that's another story.)

"No, the man no have knowledge of where us go after death. But me have knowledge."

"Him a man; you a man, said Tutu. "If you have knowledge, why no him?"

Again, Carmody was speechless. Then he said, "How you have knowledge that me a man?"

Tutu shrugged and said, "At first, you fool us. Later, everybody have knowledge. Easy to see that you put on beak and feathers."

Carmody began to remove the beak, which had chafed and irritated him for many months.

"Why you no say so?" he said angrily. "You try to make fool of me?"

Tutu looked hurt. She said, "No. Nobody make fool of you, John. Us love you. Us just thinked you liked to put on beak and feathers. Us no have knowledge of why, but if you like to do so, O.K. with us. Anyway, no try to get off what we talk about. You say you have knowledge of where dead go. Where?"

"Me no supposed to tell you where. No just yet, anyway. Later."

"You no wish to scare us? Maybe that a bad place us no like? That why you no tell us?"

"Later, me tell. It like this, Tutu. When me first comed among you and teached you speech, me no able to teach you all the words. Just them you able to understand. Later, teach you harder words. So it now. You no able to understand even if me tell you. You become older, have knowledge of more words, become smarter. Then me tell. See?"

She nodded and also clicked her beak, an additional sign of agreement.

"Me tell the others," she said. "Many times, while you sleep, we talk about where us go after us die. What use of living only short time if us no keep on living? What good it do? Some say it do no good; us just live and die, and that that. So what? But most of us no able to think that. Become scared. Besides, no make sense to us. Everything else in this world make sense. Death that last forever no do, anyway. Maybe us die to make room for others. Because if us no die, if ancestors no die, then soon this world become too crowded, and all starve to death, anyway. You tell us this world no flat but round like a ball and this -- what you call it, gravity? -- keep us from falling off. So us see that soon no more room if us no die. But why no go to a place where plenty of room?


He must have dozed away, for he suddenly awakened as he felt a small body snuggling next to his. It was his favorite, Tutu.

"Me cold," she said. "Also, many times, before the village burn, me sleep in your arms. Why you no ask me to do so tonight? You last night!" she said with a quavering voice, and she was crying. Her shoulders shook, and her beak raked across his chest as she pressed the side of her face against him. And, not for the first time, Carmody regretted that these creatures had hard beaks. They would never know the pleasure of soft lips meeting in a kiss.

"Me love you, John," she said. "But ever since the monster from the stars destroyed us village, me scared of you, too. But tonight, me forget me scared, and me must sleep in you arms once more, so me able to remember this last night the rest of me life."

Carmody felt tears welling in his own eyes, but he kept his voice firm. "Them who serve the Creator say me have work to do elsewhere. Among the stars. Me must go, even if no wish to. Me sad, like you. But maybe someday me return. No able to promise. But always hope."

"You no should leave. Us still childs, and us have adults' work ahead of us. The adults like childs, and us like adults. Us need you."

"Me know that true," he said. "But me pray to He that He watch over and protect you."

"Me hope He have more brains than me mother. Me hope He smart as you."

Carmody laughed and said, "He is infinitely smarter than me. No worry. What come, come."

He talked some more to her, mainly advice on what to do during the coming winter and reassurances that he might possibly return. Or, if he did not, that other men would. Eventually, he drifted into sleep.

But he was awakened by her terrified voice, crying in his ear.

He sat up and said, "Why you cry, child?"

She clung to him, her eyes big in the reflected light of the dying fire. "Me father come to me, and him wake me up! Him say, 'Tutu, you wonder where us horowitzes go after death! Me know, because me go to the land of beyond death. It a beautiful land; you no cry because John must leave. Some day, you see him here. Me allowed to come see you and tell you. And you must tell John that us horowitzes like mans. Us have souls, us no just die and become dirt and never see each other again.'

"Me father telled me that. And him reached out him hand to touch me. And me become scared, and me waked up crying!"

"There, there," said Carmody, hugging her. "You just dream. You know your father no able to talk when him alive. So how him able to talk now? You dreaming."

"No dream, no dream! Him not in me head like a dream! Him standing outside me head, between me and fire! Him throw a shadow! Dreams no have shadows! And why him no able to talk? If him can live after death, why him no talk, too? What you say, 'Why strain at a bug and swallow a horse?'"

"Out of the mouths of babes," muttered Carmody, and he spent the time until dawn talking to Tutu.

Philip José Farmer
Father to the Stars

Monday, June 13, 2016

Please pray

for the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando. Fifty people created in the image of God were murdered, targeted specifically because they were gay, and more than that were injured, some severely. Pray also for the families of the victims, especially those whose loved ones were killed. "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:20-21)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Internal vs. External Conditions

In an earlier post, I wrote about the cardinal virtues: wisdom (or prudence), courage, moderation, and justice. The cardinal virtues are there to liberate us from the inner restrictions to our freedom. By mastering them, we become free. But contemporary culture focuses on external restrictions to our freedom, which, being external, cannot be treated by internal transformation. They can only be treated by changing the external conditions. But since a great deal of the external conditions involve other people, this means that changing other people takes priority over changing ourselves. I have two objections to this.

First, it's not practical. We only have direct control over one person, after all, ourselves. To skip over the one person we have direct control over in order to try to control other people, who we do not have direct control over, is unwise. If we can't master direct control, why do we think we'll be able to master indirect control? This is the meaning of one of Jesus' most famous statements: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" You can't be expected to be correct about someone else's judgment if your own judgment is skewed. It's also the idea behind the movie To End All Wars. How can I bring about peace on earth if I am not willing to be a peaceful person, the type of person who could actually live in a peaceful world? As the old saying goes, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

This may make it seem that focusing on oneself and the inner restrictions to our freedom that the cardinal virtues free us from is entirely a pragmatic affair: we're not doing it because it's the right thing to do, but simply because if we want to gain more and more control over everything, we have to start with ourselves and build outward. In fact, maybe it's even the wrong thing to do. Under this scenario, we are to focus on ourselves before focusing on others.

But that leads me to my second objection. Trying to change the external world rather than ourselves it not just impractical, it's immoral. It's the attempt to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do. As Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy, when we engage in such behavior

We are making use of people, trying to bypass their understanding and judgment to trigger their will and possess them for our purposes. Whatever consent they give to us will be uninformed because we have short-circuited their understanding of what is going on. … As God's free creatures, people are to be left to make their decisions without coercion or manipulation. Hence, "let your affirmation be just an affirmation," a yes, and your denial be just a denial, a no. Anything more than this "comes from evil" -- the evil intent to get one's way by verbal manipulation of the thoughts and choices of others.

Kingdom rightness respects the soul need of human beings to make their judgments and decisions solely from what they have concluded is best. It is a vital, a biological need. We do not thrive, nor does our character develop well, when this need is not respected, and this thwarts the purpose of God in our creation.

This was brought home to me recently when I watched a video on the genius of Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones. Tyrion succeeds not by trying to force people to do what he wants but by trying to get them to think that they want what he wants.


I have no problem with this idea simply as an observation of people or as indicative of good character writing. But the video recommends this type of behavior to its viewers, and many of the commenters seem to take it to heart. I find it horrifying: what kind of a life would that be? How miserable and empty must a person be to live a life like that? It almost seems worse than death.

Now I'm treating changing internal conditions and changing external conditions as if they were mutually exclusive: obviously we should do both, and everyone does do both. If the speck in your brother's eye is a violent crime he should be stopped from committing, then it is not moral to ignore it until you remove the log in your own eye -- nor would Jesus or any of the other advocates of the cardinal virtues suggest otherwise. The question is the priority. If trying to change others is your fall-back position, if your immediate instinct in all circumstances is to blame other people or external circumstances rather than your own character, then maybe you need to take stock. And, as I mentioned in the earlier post, I'm no better than anyone else in this regard. I have lifelong character traits that blame others instead of myself, and my attempts to improve my character are sporadic and trivial. I have found that it is not true that recognizing the problem is half the battle. It's barely one percent.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Thought of the Day

The difference between a) patriotism and b) nationalism is about the same as the difference between a) loving your parents and b) helping them bury the bodies.