Archive for August, 2013

The Advantage of Panic

August 28, 2013

If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.  Ecclesiastes 10:4.

 

In the last entry I discussed how easy it is to testify to foolishness.  The above verse came at the end of a four verse paragraph in the NIV, indicating to me it has something to do with not reacting to fools.  One of the great problems in the Bible’s construction is determining where a new subject ends or begins.  The Middle Eastern mind, while not exactly wired differently, definitely approached life and philosophy from a round about perspective.  It makes it hard to figure out when subjects change because the dude who codified the KJV into chapters and verses a couple of hundred years ago separated thoughts a few times by putting chapters in the middle of them.

In keeping with that thought our key verse above goes with chapter 9:17, 18 which says The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.  Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but on sinner destroys much good.  Read in this context our key verse clicks into place like a key in a lock.

I own a book called “The Dark Teatime of the Soul” where a detective believes that everything in the universe is interconnected.  While this makes for some funny stuff like when a cat accidentally wandering into a time machine almost caused a worldwide catastrophe, it isn’t far from the truth.  The ripples of human interaction may not seem to go far but they always affect more than we see on the surface.  I learned years ago about the Eastern/Middle Eastern mindset and it’s affected the way I study.  One professor called it “Circular Logic” meaning everything taught came back around sooner or later.  We in the West use linear logic which takes a thought to a “logical” conclusion where it ends.  In other words, the alphabet starts with A and ends with Z in our minds.  While this might appear to make sense to our linear thinking, the fact is we start again with A the moment we finish with Z.  In music notation the names go from A to G then start over, which means if a scale starts with C it ends with B then the next higher note is C again.  Circular logic also ties a bunch of seemingly random things together to make a whole thought, or ties the tendrils of thought and related outcomes to the original in order to show how it works.

My professor friend claimed the Bible was written in the Eastern mindset where ideas in a subject or psalm fold back to touch and affect the main thought.  The chapter and verse method is great for memorization but it wreaks havoc on understanding the Bible itself.

Solomon grew up in and basically ruled this form of reasoning in his time therefore a verse like worrying about a ruler’s anger folds back and is expanded by one which calls some rulers fools.  The quiet words of the wise inspire calmness in the face of loud, boisterous or in-your-face shouts of a fool—who just might happen to be in charge.  Wisdom instructs us to not take too seriously the shouts of even a ruler of fools because these people are so stupid (as opposed to unintelligent?) they end up destroying themselves eventually.  We don’t have to react or worry because, while they might affect our lives in the interim, they are temporary and tend to blunder.

Unfortunately, a foolish ruler may be one of the few who doesn’t blunder into disaster but success.  This unfortunate success creates all sorts of policy problems because immediately he or she will begin to trumpet the foolhardiness as gospel and force everyone to worship it.  For years afterward the practices of a fool will be trumpeted as society’s gospel for business, religion or human interaction in one of its many forms.  While wisdom will question the validity of a problem like this, fools go along with it until the concept becomes ingrained in the collective consciousness as a thoughtless habit.

I’ve noticed the coolest head—meaning calmest and most rational—in the room usually affects it to one degree or another eventually.  I’ve also noticed that these people often become the target of the fools in charge and get imprisoned or killed first.  While Solomon’s point to remain at one’s post in the face of a ruler’s anger probably works on most occasions, there are times when it is wiser to just run.

We can’t stand still when violence against the innocent becomes the norm.  Someone has to stand up to the foolish and curb the results of the disaster they bring in their wake.  Yet I find it sickeningly fascinating that the violent always either go for the peaceful opposition or defenseless and weak first as if they deserve it.  So one who is given to wisdom will either stay at his or her post or resist from the shadows.

The advantage to reacting to a king’s anger and panicking, though, is we fit right in with the rest of the fools.

One Bad Apple

August 19, 2013

As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.  The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.  Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how stupid he is.  If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.  Ecclesiastes 10:1-4.

 

In a choir one consistently bad voice can ruin the presentation of the music.  Have you ever known a person who believed they can sing but can’t, and they won’t accept instruction or believe anyone who tells them differently?  I have.  Then, just to be fair, I’ve met plenty of people who thought they couldn’t sing but just needed coaching and encouragement.

The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the first phrase this morning was:  Is it the flies that give the perfume a bad smell or the fermentation process that attracts the flies?  Solomon couldn’t have known of course about how the chemical processes work in his day, so his “logical” conclusion blamed the flies.  I’m sure they exacerbated the problem but the fermentation process started internally first within the perfume itself.

The metaphor goes further than I at first thought.  Folly begins within a person who refuses to listen to other perspectives and holds to what he or she want and desire in the moment over what is best in the long run.  As the person becomes more “fermented” in their own focus he or she attracts “flies” of a sort—other people who love the “smell” of folly or who are “gifted” in furthering the entropy of a life.

An old farmer’s saying “One bad apple can spoil the whole barrel” has been used to describe the bad influence of certain people who choose folly over wisdom.  And “folly” in this context means a person who is silly or one who lacks sense, so we are not talking about someone smart about life.  Now in my grasp of silliness, at least in this context, Solomon isn’t referring to the childlike quality where little boys or girls are giggling or laughing by doing goofy stuff.  Rather he’s pointing at those who should be fully aware of life’s boundaries and ignore the natural precautions which anyone with a care for their future and present would take.

I have stumbled into a few places where I should have known better—may be even did know better.  But for whatever reason I ignored the warning signs of brewing trouble and blundered into pain, ridiculous drama or simply a situation where backtracking was impossible.  Usually the cleanup in the aftermath took longer than the disaster did to make.  I’ve also lived in the extreme opposite place where I tread too cautiously and ended up with much the same problem from delaying the process too long.  An over-anxious attitude of eagerness or caution, while not always producing the same results, equal the same lack of accomplishment in the long run from my experience.

Refusing to act from fear of failure grows out of the same kind of silly thinking as one who lacks fear entirely.

This lack of wisdom affects all tiers of society, all levels of education and trips up all human beings no matter their experience.  If education were the answer, then those in congress, professors, scientists, psychologists, doctors of all stripes and theologians should be immune to the disease of silly thinking.  From all the arguments in favor of education’s benefits it should prevent bad decisions and create harmony.  But it doesn’t.  Wisdom is not about knowledge alone.  Information doesn’t guarantee wisdom, though it will help to guide it in the decision making process.

Have you ever participated in a charity event where someone without any understanding of what you were doing or who you were trying to help started giving advice?  Or have you had friends who acted without any understanding of what they were doing?  I’ve had those friends and I’ve been that person.  None of us are immune to silly thinking.  Any time we act without the guidance of wisdom we are susceptible to wrong application.

The people who frustrate me the most though are those who succeed despite their foolishness.  You know them, these people were in the right place at the right time with the pet rock they were selling and made a hit.  From then on they preach their particular brand of foolishness as gospel so as to influence others to their silliness.  Their success is a fluke, an act of random chance demonstrating that the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, etc.  But they believe in their foolish reasoning they are guides to the blind.

I believe these are the types of people Jesus warned us about, “If a blind man leads another blind man, they will both fall into a pit.”  Strange as it may seem much of the woes of the world are caused by people who refuse perspective or insight outside of their particular brand of philosophy, ethnic or cultural experience, or societal norms developed to address long dead needs.  Anyone who is not pursuing the light is walking in darkness.  If what a person calls light is really darkness, how great is their darkness?

Something else flies carry with them is the stench of death, for they can be found on the dead of all species.  They also inhabit refuse of all types as well, be it dung or garbage.  Pasteur proved flies were part of the culprits in meat going bad—while his experiment intended to show spontaneous generation as a myth.  These little creatures are essential to the breakdown of complex organisms into their basic parts, so they tend to carry bacteria from one place to another.  It’s kind of like what bees do with pollen but for the purpose of entropy.

People who hang out in the rat ways and sewers of human interaction bring with them that destructive social and moral germ.  The eye is the lamp of the body; if the eye is full of darkness, the whole body will be dark.  What’s confusing about their condition is often their confident belief they are full of light and looking right at it.

That’s where the Spirit of God comes in through us.

Each of us is a candle for the kingdom of God powered by the Holy Spirit.  Light from a candle, no matter how small, defuses the darkness away from itself.  If those who confidently believe they know and understand light have a glimpse of it through us simply shining—not glaring, they will see the contrast without a lot of burned fingers, seared eyeballs and general pain.  I’m pretty sure for this very reason God let’s us be the light—small, not very bright but distinctly shining—so that those walking in darkness won’t be overwhelmed by His glory.  The purpose of shining is not to glare in everybody’s eyes but give them a reference whereby they can see what reality looks like.

Here’s where it gets dicey, though:  almost without fail many who receive the light of heaven through the Holy Spirit begin to think either they are of the elite and deserve it or that this revelation comes from something they themselves have done.  Neither is true.  We receive the light because of Jesus’ resurrection, not just His death because without the resurrection no salvation is possible.  We also walked in darkness before we let Him in as Lord and Savior.  Those two words describe our condition so perfectly it’s a wonder we get conceited at all about our new state of being through Christ.

Let me quote James again:  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  James 3:17, 18.

Look at the words submissive, mercy, considerate, impartial and ask yourself if any of these words have even the slightest hint of arrogance in them.  I don’t see any. My conclusion on wisdom’s primary characteristic is that it brings humility first.  Everything else it gifts us with is a byproduct of an open heart and mind growing out of our realization we don’t have anything to be conceited or arrogant about.

Paul claims we are the stench of death to those who are perishing.  Some might interpret that to mean we are flies in the ointment but more likely we reveal through the sweet smell of Christ in us the stench of death in them.  A person who rarely uses deodorant will only see the contrast between themselves and those who do when they smell someone who bathes regularly and uses it.  Our job is not to push bathing on people but to be clean ourselves.  Through the example and health of our lifestyles we become a “witness” in the court of society, testifying to the benefits of clean living.

I’d rather be the testimony of life than of death.

Wisdom Knows No Difference

August 2, 2013

I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me.  There was once a small city with only a few people in it.  And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it.  Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom.  But nobody remembered that poor man.  So I said,  “Wisdom is better than strength.”  But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his works are no longer heeded.  Ecclesiastes 9:13-16.

 

I kind of wish Solomon would’ve described what the poor man’s solution was to save the city.  But I guess it doesn’t matter really because the method isn’t the issue rather it’s the fact of using wisdom over strength.

The saddest part of this story is really the fact that wisdom doesn’t pay dividends in cash payouts but only in the form of saving lives, righting wrongs, creating peace (where fools don’t rule the outcome), and generally making life more livable.  Everyone needs—not just wants—affirmation and some form of praise for their efforts.  If that poor man was really wise, he would have realized, however, that the fools in charge would forget quite quickly that he came up with the solution.  His wisdom would have insured a sense of equanimity and contentment concerning his own part in the situation.  Yet even with this assurance in his heart I’m sure he would have appreciated some sort of acknowledgement for his efforts.

God made sure the poor man was legitimized and secured in the annals of history by putting him into a book.  Now that’s a legacy.

The more I adhere to wisdom, the quieter I become.  This may not be the same outcome for everyone, so don’t even go there.  Some people in the course of learning wisdom must become more vocal because they remain silent when they should speak.  I have the opposite problem—I speak whether I should or not.  As it stands right now, writing these devotionals online for public consumption and being on Facebook, of all things, have made me realize and recognize the futility of argument and persuasion where it is not desired, ignored or simply misunderstood by default.  Facebook, particularly, has taught me what my various subcultures will put up with from me.  I mean to say that my ability to talk about any subject has gotten me into trouble several times.  So I have done and said things which were totally or marginally out of line for the general public.

Oddly enough (to me, maybe not to you), few people see the oxymoron at work in the judgments passed.  Almost all the “oddities” of others are judged so through the lens of cultural understanding and not a real sense of morals which protect society.  No where is this seen most clearly than the Victorian attitudes about sex and violence.  The American attitude towards violence is rather blasé whereas their general outlook about sex is embarrassment.  It’s changing somewhat but still there.  We accept extremely violent movies in the name of entertainment but object to anything remotely sexual.

There are plenty of other places where conventional wisdom uses a lack of follow through in the logic.  For instance:  Racial and gender equality.  Most people, except for the fringe detractors, believe in equality for all races and genders.  Yet the disparity in pay, treatment in the work place, and general power of those not of the white male persuasion still undermines the advertisements.

We have all heard the term “conventional wisdom” used in one context or another, for most of our lives run by it.  This is to say, someone or a group of someone-s develop a method of living or convenience in travel, eating, etc. and it becomes the norm for a short period of human history.  For instance cell phones and the like are so pervasive today my son uses my old iPhone 3GS as his iPod (I call it an iPhod since it’s a phone without service).  I know, I know, starving kids in India or wherever need food, I get it, but the norm in America and most rich countries is stuff coming out our ears.  Ten years ago laptops were a rarity now they are the norm; 20 years ago the internet was just a novelty now it’s the norm.  I have a Fred Meyer (grocery store) less than a mile from my house but I drive there instead of walk because carrying all those bags (I’m a bachelor so it’s usually only 4) is tiring.  I do it but only if I’m in the mood.  My son complains if he has to come with me because he’s not used to walking anywhere much—except may be the playground.

Conventional wisdom works like this.  That king who came against the small city brought conventional war instruments to his cause as well as a superior army to get the job done efficiently.  With all his might and tools of the trade he lost the war to a poor man with wisdom and no reputation for war at all.

I live in a country with some of the best educational institutions available.  That said, I also notice education hasn’t led to any real genuine wisdom or good judgment on the part of the parties involved.  Those in government make great efforts to pass laws about the specific worldview their constituents support—or, pretend to support.  Nothing really gets done except a stalemate and lots of money being spent on going nowhere.  I haven’t seen a noticeable difference between the morals of the rich and educated versus the poor and deprived except in access to power over the outcome of certain things.  Politicians, educators, and businessmen—all highly educated by the agreed common standards of such things—continue to demonstrate a lack of good judgment in their pursuits and lifestyles.  I don’t see very many examples of good living or secure lifestyles among the rich and famous.

My point here is more about what reality is versus what everyone around me strives so hard to make it appear to be.  I’m not impressed with my current subculture of Christians in general because I see them making complete asses of themselves by declaring what God will and won’t allow.  Then later watching reality blow the prediction into shards.  All the while those who made such foolish assertions scramble to protect their system of belief by throwing up excuses for their own failure and denying their declarations as being stupid.

The poor man in Solomon’s story made no declarations of intent or otherwise, he simply saved the city from a much more powerful source of destruction and then moved on.  Unfortunately, according to Solomon, no one really respected his wisdom for whatever reason people don’t recognize such things—and I can name a few.  Poverty is looked on today as either a lack of ambition (laziness) or the result of calamity or, if you’re of a religious persuasion, punishment by God or a god.  None of the explanations are the whole truth.  Oppression primarily comes from the rich and powerful not the poor, though even in a sty a person may find ways to oppress and dominate others.  Okay, there is a form of social oppression everywhere but I’m not speaking to that problem just yet.  Those who gain power come to see their position as warranted and deserved rather than possibly the luck of the draw.  In other words, Apple succeeded as a PC while Atari got relegated to a game computer.  What’s funny about this is that Apple and IBM denounced Atari in the early days as just a gaming computer, which is bad logic in the programming world since gaming takes more powerful computing than accounting or anything else.  The oxymoron of the logic here is that it isn’t the talented who win the day but the ebb and flow of human consumption, or their willingness to be led one way or the other.

The conservative base of the Christian religious institutions teaches a specific decorum within and without the confines of the church.  While minor details such as dress standards, etc., vary the nuts and bolts don’t.  Beer is still a marginal sin (though most will hesitate to take it that far), smoking is in the same boat, revealing clothing is much worse, and we could go on but I won’t.  Then we read about Jesus who said,  “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,  ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’  But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”  Matthew 11:19.  The verse before that has Him using John the Baptist’s asceticism as an example of how the conventional religious wisdom of the day rejected him.

No matter how we slice it the keepers of the conventional will always complain.  Jesus was right (duh!) when He said, “ ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ ”  Like children in the marketplace of His day those in control of the human behavior monitor will continuously demand we dance to the tune of whatever they have in mind.  Meanwhile true wisdom is disregarded—dare I say despised?—while fools (Ecclesiastes uses the term to mean someone silly or stupid) keep pressing their agenda into the public square, demanding we all look and adhere to it.

Jesus didn’t come to conquer the nations by conventional wisdom.  Nowhere in Scripture were we commanded to right all the world’s wrongs.  Jesus didn’t fight the traditions of His day unless they went completely counter to Scripture.  He also didn’t bother with changing the culture of the day by demanding the written and unwritten rules be changed, instead He influenced those around Him.  Paul declares that the weapons of our warfare are not the conventional weapons of this world but spiritually discerned (2 Corinthians 10:4).  May be this is why so many religious people who get into politics declare war on all other religions, cultures and lifestyles—they don’t understand the wisdom which comes down from heaven.

James 3:17, 18  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Strange, everything the Christian Right desires is found in this one passage about heavenly wisdom.  Weird, there isn’t any mention of passing laws or going to war or threatening people with hellfire to persuade them.  How we solve problems in the world is wholly different than the world’s methods; how we approach changing hearts and minds is completely foreign to our education—culturally not schooling.

Jesus calls us to be peace-makers, heavenly wisdom is peace-loving.  Jesus calls us to consider others as important as ourselves; heavenly wisdom is considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  See the contrast?  The methods are diametrically opposed to one another.  I think Solomon’s surprise at the way the poor wise man won stems from his understanding of how successful wars are waged.  The poor man’s method did not use conventional wisdom.  Neither do we.