Monday, May 31, 2010

Kirkegaard on a 7" wheel!

Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that he loved making simple things complicated. I in turn love making complicated things simple. For example, Kierkegaard's opening paragraphs in The Sickness Unto Death are notorious for being some of the most complicated sentences in the English language (translated from Danish, his mother tongue). They're even parodied on Youtube (very funny!)

Once you plow through his opening pages and get his nomenclature, the book is actually (to me) a spiritually edifying discourse. I've applied my wheel making hobby to this work and finished the first draft this weekend.

I'm tempted to start a new blog dedicated to the art of the volvelle...called, "Spinning My Wheels."

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Little Known Cultural Factoid From the '70s

After high school I spent several years hitch hiking up and down the west coast with buddies. Our lofty ambitions during this period of youthful folly were to spit in the Grand Canyon, sleep in the Painted Desert, and pan handle in Height Ashbury. We meandered through WA, OR, CA, AZ, NM, NV, and UT and spent hundreds of hours idling about freeway on-ramps with our thumbs out. Here comes the cultural factoid: the 6” x 6” posts of freeway on-ramp signs were plastered with the hand scrawled notes of a generation of aimless wanderers, personal notes beyond the ubiquitous “Impeach Nixon.”

“Jade, meet me in SF on the 14th. Sunseed.” “Flakey Foont, I missed you in Phoenix. Find me in Flagstaff next month. Mr. Natural.” “Amethyst, we waited 3 days and you never showed. Found Moose. Head to Elko. Look us up. Amanita.”

The freeway sign posts, eight to ten feet tall for maximum visibility, were literally covered with micro blogs on all four sides, from top to bottom, on every on-ramp from Salem to San Diego: Oakland, Bakersfield, Sepulveda, Yuma, Chico, Union Gap, San Jose, and more.

“Chrystal, busted in Redding, hung up in Sacramento, Oceanside soon. Opal.” “Marjoram, where’s that twenty bucks I loaned you? Chanterelle.” “Has anyone seen that chic Rainbow from Pismo Beach? Was supposed to be here last Thursday. Tell her Mossyfern missed her.”

Clearly, the odds of these messages actually reaching their intended audiences were slim. The pattern of pick up and drop off was random, subject to the whim of Good Samaritan motorists. But the sign posts did make for interesting reading while stranded for hours. The human need for connection always finds a way.

“Crazy Horse at Fillmore next month. Pickles, meet me there.” “Greenflower, where the heck are you?” “Great soup kitchen on Elmwood in Berkeley but don’t eat the tuna.”

Just think how efficient the nomadic 70s might have been had we had Twitter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Lawn Mower Proof for the Existence of God

St. Thomas would be glad to know someone’s finally added a sixth classical proof for the existence of God. Apologists who strike out using the ontological, cosmological, moral, teleological and contingency arguments can now argue unbelievers into faith using the Ariens, Snapper, Lawn Boy and Honda proof for the existence of God. Here’s how.

1. After months of backbreaking work of removing rocks, leveling dirt, planting seed, watering and weeding, lawns grow like crazy. But then people undo their work by cutting down the grass that took months to cultivate. It serves no evolutionary advantage for Homo sapiens to find pleasure in this bizarre practice. Such folly can only be explained by our fallen nature. If there’s a fallen nature there’s got to be a God whose nature we’ve fallen short of.

2. Some lawn mowing persons (me for example) rarely mow the lawn in the same pattern. The joy of making creative mowing patterns is evidence of the aesthetic in us. Where did such a bent come from? Why do moose or llamas not graze in oddball patterns? Because, not being created in the image of a creative God, they take no pleasure in art.

3. I’ve heard stories of some (not me) who mow others’ lawns for free. Such altruism can only be explained by a divine desire in us to serve others without reward. Where does this selfless concern for others come from--the selfish gene? We think not.

4. If we found an abandoned lawn mower in a grassy field it’s unlikely we’d conclude that the fossil fuels and carbon pistons spontaneously materialized out of thin air. We’d conclude some irresponsible teenager simply got lazy and quit mowing. Further proof of our fallen nature.

5. Some lawn mowers come equipped with a mulching plate to be installed when not bagging. Failure to install this device results in jamming the self propel mechanism. Persons who fail to put that plate in place (I’m not naming any names) recognize they lack intelligent design. By negation we know what is by knowing what is not. Some (still unnamed) lawn mowing persons know intelligence exists because they know they lack it. Ergo, intelligent design does exist (just not in my back yard).

6. People see differences between pre-cut and post-cut lawns (especially around our place). The cognitive ability to recognize newly shorn lawns requires image retrieval, memory comparison, and conclusion making. If this is mere neurology, a function of random synaptic connections and electronic impulses—like telemarketing or laugh tracks--why trust it? Every time an atheist appreciates a newly mown lawn they’re demonstrating their God given ability to trust their senses.

7. Tracking grass into a recently swept kitchen triggers strong emotions in some (I am again naming no names). The hard work of sprucing up the yard is for naught all because of a couple of measly blades of grass? Okay, it was a couple of handfuls. Picky, picky. So how does the Swept Floor VS. Mown Lawn controversy prove the existence of God? If unaided natural selection dictated the survival of the fittest, we’d take grass on the kitchen floor in stride. But because the lawn mower wants to get along with the kitchen sweeper, intelligent adjustments must be made. Now please excuse me, I’ve got some sweeping up to do.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Dudley Do Right School of Conflict Resolution

The 1960s cartoon Dudley Do Right smartly captured three roles played in contemporary disputes. In most conflicts one party plays the role of the evil Snidely Whiplash. He's the identified bully, provocateur, and persecutor who threatens the innocent and vulnerable Nell Fenwick. In family conflicts Nell is the victim, martyr, and powerless recipient of mistreatment. To the rescue comes Dudley Do Right of the Mounties! Dudley saves, protects, and fights injustice. As a conflict mediator I'm astonished how frequently everyone thinks they play the role of Dudley Do Right. Check this out.

A mother watches in horror as her husband tries to toughen up their son with what she thinks are unreasonable consequences. From her point of view, the harsh dad is like Snidely Whiplash picking on their vulnerable son (Nell) and she, playing the role of Dudley, comes to the rescue--interferes with dad's discipline, softens the harshness, and scolds the nasty Snidely!

A father watches in anger as their son manipulates mom and pushes her around. From his point of view, the son is like Snidely picking on a vulnerable wife (Nell) and he, playing the role of Dudley, comes to the rescue--protecting mom, scolding the son, and coming on like gang busters!

A son watches in fear as his parents fight like cats and dogs. From his point of view, dad is like Snidely Whiplash picking on his vulnerable mother (Nell) and he, playing the role of Dudley, acts out (misbehaves, flunks classes) to rescue his parents.

Everyone thinks they're the hero Dudley protecting the innocent Nell by fighting injustice. Or they think of themselves as Nell, the martyr being persecuted by the bully Snidely. Rarely do folks admit, "I'm the mean one, I'm Snidely Whiplash, I'm the one who stirs up the drama."

If you find yourself in conflict with two other people, pause and ask each one to describe what role they feel they're in--picked on Nell, rescuer Dudley, or bad guy Snidely. There's no guarantee that will end the fight but it'll give you a good laugh in the middle of it when no body fesses up to being a Snidely!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Temper's Temperature

There's a connection between anger and heat; where else would these phrases come from?

He lit my fuse.
She's a hot head.
She makes my blood boil.
I was in the heat of passion.
She exploded.
Our tempers flared.
She's like a volcano.
He's red faced.
Stay cool!
Chill out!
He burns me up.
My wroth is kindling.
We had a heated argument.
I'm steamed!
She burns me up!
Don't push his hot button.
I'm fuming!
She's venting!
There are degrees of anger.
Some anger is caustic.
He makes inflammatory remarks.
Don't blow up.
Simmer down!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

If I Worked for Microsoft

Microsoft has a reputation for asking job applicants weird questions to see how they handle off-the-wall inquiries: Why is a manhole cover round? How many cars are there in the USA? How many cubit feet of water pass by a chosen spot in the Mississippi River? How would you relocate Mt. Fuji?

I wonder what questions are asked of those who apply for the job of Job Applicant Question Writer. Here’s what I’d ask.

1. Which came first: the can or the can opener?

2. Who put the lava in lavatory?

3. Who put the mode in commode?

4. Who put the hroo in bathroom?

5. Who was the first to rearrange the spaces of that famous French phrase, “Wet hepeo ple?”

6. Who was the first to describe Kafka’s The Trial as Kafkaesque?

7. If given two choices which would you rather receive: dashed hopes or hashed dopes?

8. Is your dislike of discursive reasoning due to an intellectual incapacity or a highly selective standard of relevance which produces an insuperable indifference to matters bearing no apparent relation to those matters that do interest you?

9. Who was the first to rearrange the spaces of that famous rap lyric, “Uni Ted West and?”

10. Using just a lawn mower prove the existence of God.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

7 Views of Economic Shortage

Why are some people stuck in the middle (or lower) class? Why are some business owners not selling as many widgets or billable hours they used to? Why is cash flow not flowing for so many? Here are seven views of economic shortage (illustrated with references to scripture and culture).

1. Randomness. This view suggests there are no discernible or predictable laws of economic success.

  • Solomon said, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
  • This is the premise of the Black Swan by economist Nassim Taleb, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, and a host of mathematicians who study chance, luck, and lotteries.

2. Retribution. This view suggests moral or ethical failure is behind poverty.

  • The disciples believed this (“who caused this man’s blindness—himself or his parents?”) as did Job’s comforters (“God repays a man for what he has done; he brings upon him what his conduct deserves”)
  • It’s a favorite of health and wealth preachers.
  • Richard Adams in his novel Shardik brilliantly described a superstitious tribe who read the random movements of a large bear as omens in response (retribution) for their undisciplined worship.

3. Good Products, Bad Capitalism. This view suggests an unregulated market squashes those without power.

  • James warns against unscrupulous bosses (“Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter”).
  • One can learn about this view from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided and Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story.

4. Good Capitalism, Bad products. This view suggests the struggling widget seller may not be selling widgets because they’re bad widgets.

  • Jesus cleansed the temple because the products were being sold at exorbitant prices thus preventing worship, “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.”
  • Just as bad-singing contestants on American Idol need a Simon Cowell to tell them they stink, entrepreneurs need an objective reality check.
  • Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations said the “invisible hand” of an unfettered market weeds out the bad products naturally.
  • Think dangerous Toyotas, tainted Tylenol, and contaminated tuna.

5. Good Product, Bad Worker. Even businesses with great products can go belly up if the owner is shady, unethical, or morally impure.

  • This is the message of Proverbs (“for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life”).
  • Similar to the retribution view, this view suggests moral turpitude may lie behind economic failure.
  • This caused doubts in Asaph who puzzled over the success of the unrighteous in Psalm 73; I wonder what he would have thought of oil rich Arab nations?
  • Willy Lowman in Death of a Salesman exemplifies this view of immorality and income.

6. Divine Determinism. This view leaves little room for human influence. One’s economic fortunes (or lack thereof) are determined by God’s sovereignty.

  • Deuteronomy states, “But remember the LORD for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.
  • James wrote, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
  • Economic shortfall is re-framed as divine discipline, character building, or opportunity to cast one’s self on the “frowning providence” of God.
  • Paradoxically, according to Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Webber, the Puritans believed that industriousness would earn God’s favor and could be measured in profit.

7. Passivity. This view suggests one’s earnings are commensurate to one’s faith and generosity.

  • Test me in your finances,” said Malachi.
  • If you’re not faithful in mammon, how will God entrust to you true riches?” said Jesus.
  • Since there are so many scriptural references that imply one shouldn't be financially ambitious (“Be content with one’s wages.” “Love of money is the root of all evil.” “Consider the lilies and the birds…they don’t sweat earning a living”), one is left trying to find the balance between foolhardy Zen-like passivity on one hand and greedy accumulation on the other.
  • Richard Foster, Phillip Yancey, Ron Blue, Larry Burkett, and others address this challenge.

What other views are there? How do you explain economic shortages?

Friday, May 7, 2010

What Comes After "Z?"

I woke up with this burning question, "What letter comes after the letter z?" to which I reply:

1. "Y" if you're listing the letters of the alphabet in reverse alphabetical order.
2. "A" if you're listing the letters of the alphabet in alphabetical order in sequence.
3. "S" if you're spelling the name Zsa Zsa.
4. "B" if you're spelling the name Zbigniew Brzezinski.
5. "O" if you're spelling the word zoo (on and on for zebra, zylophone, zipper, etc).
6. "N" if you're looking at a random rack of Scrabble letters.
7. "%" if you're inventing a 27th letter of the alphabet.
8. "Z" if you're into singers with long (long!) white beards.

Now, back to work.......

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quips/Quotes: Midnight Disease

Interesting quotes by Alice Flaherty (Midnight Disease) and my responses

Lewis Carroll wrote 98,721 letters in his life time (almost as many monthly texts as the average teen).

Highly productive would-be authors fill file drawers with unpublishable trash (she’s been snooping in my home office).

The drive to write produces a first draft; it is the drive to write well that produces the second, third, twentieth (would that more authors had the drive to write well).

If you don’t like the first or second doctor, see another. If you don’t like the fifth, though, it just might be you that is in trouble (words of genuine wisdom).

Queen Anne said admiringly of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, “How awful, artificial, and amusingmeaning awe-full, artful, and inspired by the muse (today she’d say, “How dope”).

Creativity is defined as novelty and value (my baked salmon is valuable but not novel; my made-from-scratch green smoothies are novel but lack value. I’ve yet to cook a creative meal).

Déjà vu, jamais vu—the feeling of never having seen something which is in fact familiar (like seeing my high school annual photos).

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “I don’t want to be a doctor and live by men’s diseases; nor a minister to live by their sins; nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So I don’t see there’s anything left for me but to be an author” (ouch! he just eliminated my callings as therapist, pastor, mediator).

Why Prolific Writers Write

I read the Midnight Disease to find out why some people write so much. Here are the options.

  1. Biology. An overabundance of neurotransmitters in the synapses of our limbic system influences our temporal lobes.
  2. Vocation. We have a sense of mission and we desire to propagate truth, beauty, humor.
  3. Hypergraphia. Like the workaholic, there’s a psychodynamic urge to write and we just can’t quit.
  4. Suffering. Misery shared is half the misery.
  5. Temperament. The artist in us “gets pleasure from the praise of complete strangers.”
  6. Post partum disorder. (Um, not for all of us).
  7. A visitation. One receives inspiration from the muse like receiving dictation by an outside source.
  8. Imago dei. Being created in the image of a communicating God prompts us to communicate as well. Well, not as well, but in stumbling imitation.
  9. Depression. Introspection is a very writerly trait.
  10. Compulsive memoirism. This is the fuel behind most blogs.
  11. Money (fame, fortune).
  12. Self therapy. “Language was the first mood altering experience” (p. 200).
  13. Self knowledge. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” (p. 218).

My hunch is that people with the compulsion to write a lot combine several of these motivations. What drives you to write?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kierkegaard Bibliography

Annotated Kierkegaard Bibliography

Soren Kierkegaard’s (1813 – 1855) literary legacy is massive, convoluted and confusing. To make sense of his pseudonyms, irony, humor, theology, philosophy, psychology, and profound depth, I could either plow through his authorship on my own (which causes fear and trembling in the most stalwart), or I could benefit from the works of love by others. I’ve chosen the latter. And I am glad I did. While there’s repetition in Kierkegaard, it would take ages, well, at least two ages, to untangle his philosophical fragments. I recommend tackling the works sited below (many of which are papers of one still living) in stages. On life’s way most of us, on imagined occasions and in various spirits, create a bucket list. Mine includes attaining purity of heart before I contract any sickness unto death. To achieve this I need practice in Christianity. And the upbuilding discourses below help me do this. So judge for yourself! Let not the concept of anxiety or the concept of irony prevent you from enjoying these edifying discourses. One last note before concluding. “Unscientific?” “Postscript?” I know the jargon seems endless. But if you read for self examination I’m confident you’ll blossom like the lily in the field and the bird in the air. (Note: how many Kierkegaard titles can you find hidden in this paragraph?)


Barrett, Lee C. III Kierkegaard (Abingdon Press: Nashville, 2010). A new, brief (75 pages) and trenchant summary of Kierkegaard’s continued significance in modern theological thinking.

Evans, Stephen C. Kierkegaard: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press: NY, 2009). Since the author shares Kierkegaard’s Christian faith I trust Evans’ interpretations more than average. Rather than making Kierkegaard the “father of existentialism,” Evans clearly delineates the massive differences between Soren and Sartre, Camus, Kafka, Nietzsche, et al.

Evans, Stephen C. Soren Kierkegaard’s Christian Psychology: Insight for Counseling and Pastoral Care (Regent College Publishing: Vancouver, BC, 1990). I’m not sure this book will help you talk to clients or parishioners better (it’s theoretical, not clinical), but it will definitely clarify the unique role a Christian therapist or pastoral counselor plays in the spiritual formation of others. If you’ve ever felt sheepish for not being “value free,” this nifty essay (134 pages) will assuage your guilt. Evans draws from Kierkegaard’s whole authorship but primarily Sickness Unto Death and Fear and Trembling.

Garff, Joakim. Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton University Press: NJ), 2005. Translated by Bruce H. Kirmmse. A massive (864 pages) and finely-detailed examination of Kierkegaard’s life and times. I loved it. At times, Garff is overly critical of Kierkegaard in my opinion. But whose heroes do not have feet of clay?

Gill, Jerry H. Essays on Kierkegaard (Burgess Publishing, MN, 1969). Older existentialist reading of Kierkegaard. If nothing else, the authors of these collected essays can take pride in the fact that they recognized Kierkegaard’s value to philosophy before he hit the big time (if the current resurgence of interest in Kierkegaard can even be called “big time”).

Hong, Howard. The Essential Kierkegaard (Princeton University Press: NJ, 2000). Snippets of Kierkegaard’s major works arranged in chronological order. Read in conjunction with Garff makes for fabulous reading. It’s mind boggling how one Danish brain could ponder the things it pondered. Welcome to the world of genius.

Kierkegaard, Soren. The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Edification and Awakening by Anti-Climicus (Penguin Books: London, 1989). The book that got me hooked on Kierkegaard. The first two pages are famous for their obscurity, opacity, and off putting double talk. I’m sure many bailed on a career in philosophy when they first encountered the “relationship that relates to itself.” But press on and the book unfolds into a relevant psychology that predates (and in my opinion outshines) Freud. Highly recommended.

Kierkegaard, Soren. Fear and Trembling: Dialectical Lyric by Johannes de silentio (Penguin Books: London, 1985). Translated by Alastair Hannay. The theme of this trenchant but powerful book is faith. I still grapple with the Abraham/Isaac affair but Kierkegaard’s contribution to the discussion is essential.

Mullen, John Douglas. Kierkegaard’s Philosophy: Self Deception and Cowardice in the Present Age (New American Library: NY, 1981). One of my favorites. Mullen’s illustrations are dated (he references the hot topics of the late ‘70s: Open Marriage, the “new” fad of jogging, etc.), but I’m convinced that had this nifty paper back been published 20 years earlier we may never have had the hedonistic ‘sixties. Mullen does a masterful job of giving Kierkegaard his due as the relevant and powerful philosopher of our times. Don’t leave home without this book!