The human heart

Those who live only for pleasure become cynical in middle age. A cynic has been defined as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. You blame things, rather than self. If you are married, you say: “If I had another husband, or another wife, I could be happy.” Or you say, “If I had another job…” or, “If I were in another city, I would be happy”…

 

Once you realize that God is your end…you begin to see that friendship, the joys of marriage, the thrill of possession, the sunset and the evening star, masterpieces of art and music, the gold and silver of earth, the industries and the comfort of life, are all the gifts of God. He dropped them on the roadway of life to remind you that if these are so beautiful then what must be BEAUTY? He intended them to be bridges to cross over to him…

 

Unfortunately, many become so enamored of the gifts the great Giver of Life has dropped on the roadway of life that they build their cities around the gift, and forget the Giver, and when the gifts, out of loyalty to their Maker, fail to give them perfect happiness, they rebel against God and become cynical and disillusioned…

 

Look at your heart! It tells the story of why you were made. It is not perfect in shape and contour, like a Valentine heart. There seems to be a small piece missing out of the side of every human heart. That may be to symbolize a piece that was torn out of the heart of Christ, which embraced all humanity on the cross…

 

When God made your human heart, he found it so good and so lovable that he kept a small sample of it in heaven. He sent the rest of it into this world to enjoy his gifts and to use them as steppingstones back to him.   (Fulton Sheen)

 

 

The Audience, A Christmas story

THE NIGHT BEFORE MY AUDIENCE WITH THE KING I WENT THROUGH MY BAG to make sure everything was there. Considering what was at stake, I couldn’t be too careful.

One by one, I took them out and replaced them: the ode I’d composed in the King’s honor, the proclamation for the King’s monument I’d commissioned, the ledger of revenue I’d collected for the King: the evidence that demonstrated my worthiness for knighthood.

I’d been traveling a long road to the royal capital and had been sleeping poorly, but the next morning I was eager to make for the castle. As I traversed the long corridor to the throne room, the order in which I should present my evidence was first and foremost in my mind.

The throne room wasn’t what I’d expected, rather small and humble by my standards. When I was presented to the King, he greeted me by name—a good sign that—and asked that I make myself comfortable, serving me a sumptuous breakfast at a table facing the throne, though I was too preoccupied to do more than sample the fare.

Before he could say another word, I told him about the things I desired to place before him.

“That’s not necessary,” he said.

“But it is, Your Highness,” I insisted.

When I went for my bag, I found it wasn’t at hand. Had I left it at the door, or in the corridor?

“I must find my bag, Sir,” I told him.

“You need not,” he said, but how could I represent myself properly without the evidence of all I’d been doing on his behalf?

I bowed and made for the door, and there in a shadowy corner was my bag. I clutched it tightly to my breast and hurried back to the table, pushing the feast aside and setting it before him.

“What do you have for me?” he said.

I reached into the bag. I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t resist removing each and every item: a judgment where I’d favored a rich man over his poor cousin, the work order to expand my private granaries, the green cap belonging to the beggar woman I’d insulted at the door of my manor, a bottle of the best wine in the world I’d acquired at great cost.

As he looked down on these tokens, all I could think to say was, “An enemy has done this, Your Highness.”

A profound sadness clouded his features, and I anticipated a terrible verdict, but when he spoke, he said, “I know about these things, but they won’t change my decision, because I judge you regret all of them.”

“I do, Your Highness…but I must find the tokens that were taken from my bag, so I can place them before you in evidence of my worthiness. Will you give me leave to seek for them?”

“That isn’t necessary, my son.”

“Please, Sir!”

He nodded gravely. I was already shoveling all those shameful things back into my bag. Someone had removed the true tokens to embarrass me, but I would find them out, retrieve the tokens, and place them before the King as I’d intended.

I suspect someone in my own province is responsible for this evil deed, so I will return home and take as long as necessary to put things back in order. Next time, I will guard my tokens with greater vigilance. The next audience will be different.

Should we be afraid of Michigan’s waters?

Should we be afraid of Michigan’s waters? Lead and copper, toxic algae, polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS), cryptosporidium, the next grim chemical to be discovered in our water: how concerned (afraid) should we be? The consensus seems to be very afraid.

 

Today’s technology allows us to detect chemicals at increasingly lower amounts. In the 1960s, we identified pollutants in parts per million—that’s one tiny grain of sand in a 1 foot by 1 foot by 1 foot high sandhill. Today, we identify many chemicals in parts per billion—one grain in a 10 foot by 10 foot by 10 foot high sandhill, or in parts per trillion—one grain in a 100 foot by 100 foot by 100 foot high sandhill. Some chemicals can even by detected in parts per quadrillion. This means we can now “see” chemicals in our water that were once “invisible”.

 

Just because we can “see” a chemical—one grain in a billion or trillion—doesn’t mean it’s dangerous, that we should be afraid. Though zero is a useful number in mathematics, in the physical/natural world, zero is unattainable. So what questions should we ask if something is detected (“seen”)? Is it a chemical of concern, or grave concern? Is there more than the regulated amount? Is there more than the amount that can cause problems with repeated exposure—not just a sip here or there? Does the amount pose an imminent danger (a chemical spill)? Unless the “seen” chemical is subjected to these questions, we could be afraid for no rational, evidence-based reason. Without asking such questions, everything becomes a crisis, and when everything is a crisis, it’s hard to focus on what’s important.

 

Home and workplace water treatment technologies have advanced rapidly, so a problem at the water source needn’t mean a problem at the tap, even if the water treatment plant isn’t equipped to handle it. As for the big picture, human health and wildlife protection, Michigan’s waters are cleaner than they’ve been in over 100 years. Just because we can “see” more chemicals in our water doesn’t mean water quality is deteriorating, or we’re in danger. With rare exceptions, exposure to Michigan’s waters poses far less risk than driving a car, smoking tobacco or pot, bicycling, extreme sports, tattoos, prescription medications, or being sexually active.

 

Shall we rely on consensus, or the evidence? It’s good to be concerned about Michigan’s water quality, but we need not be afraid.

The Lucifer Ego, and questions

7 years after “Toward the Gleam” was published, it gives me joy to announce the publication of the sequel, “The Lucifer Ego”, a rousing mystery-thriller. The theft of the ancient “Toward the Gleam” manuscript, and the Oxford archaeologist recruited to recover it. Prehistoric archaeology, psychology, mythology (including Middle-Earth and Narnia), and First Things.

All the threads were connected, or were they? Who is Elana Rosman?  What of the exotic (extinct) butterfly? Why was Li Hwang in Oxford?

 

Order the print version at: https://www.amazon.com/Lucifer-Ego-Sequel-Toward-Gleam/dp/1732472602/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1534688161&sr=8-2&keywords=the+lucifer+ego

 

Or the Kindle version: https://www.amazon.com/Lucifer-Ego-Sequel-Toward-Gleam-ebook/dp/B07GLWQ98Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534688161&sr=8-1&keywords=the+lucifer+ego

 

Storytelling and Truth

“I don’t read fiction because it’s not true, it’s made up.”

 

I hear this often, and these people are right in that fiction isn’t history or biography or science or theology, but by going further up…further in, as C.S. Lewis put it, stories can reveal truth in ways that non-fiction can’t.

 

George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 alerted the world to the lies and horrors of communism in ways no newspaper, politician, or academic publication achieved. “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”, and “I loved Big Brother” reveal truths about totalitarianism that statistics and rational arguments cannot match.

 

The prolific French author, George Simenon, wasn’t a moralist, but his novel, Maigret on the Riviera, depicts how a murdered man traded slavery to propriety and wealth for slavery to sensuality and self-indulgence, a story about the deeper truth of the insidiousness of slavery. On the surface, the man seems to have been liberated, and perhaps Simenon thinks so too, though his honesty as a writer demands that he depict where years of sensual indulgence lead the man.

 

Autism and its myriad spectrums are frustrating mysteries to most of us, and even to many who daily encounter these conditions. More scholarly books have been written on this subject in the last twenty-five years than all prior years combined, many helpful, many informative, many useful. Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, told from the perspective of a brilliant/constrained fifteen year old boy gives the reader deeper insights—truths—into the world of autistic human beings than clinical descriptions. Christopher Boone’s observations and understanding of the world amaze the reader, while the challenges he faces with routine daily events horrifies us. The dog engages Christopher in ways that escape the rest of us, and leads him to truths he wasn’t seeking. Christopher is both much more and much less than so-called normal people, and Haddon shows rather than tells us why this is so.

 

How many learned books have been written on the causes and mechanisms of addictions and obsessions? Can any of these measure up to J.R.R. Tolkien’s depiction of the lure of the Ring? The twentieth century literary critic, Edmund Wilson, wasn’t impressed: “One is puzzled to know why the author should have supposed he was writing for adults. There are, to be sure, some details that are a little unpleasant for a children’s book, but except when he is being pedantic and also boring the adult reader, there is little in The Lord of the Rings over the head of a seven-year-old child. It is essentially a children’s book – a children’s book which has somehow got out of hand, since, instead of directing it at the “juvenile” market, the author has indulged himself in developing the fantasy for its own sake…”

 

Why are we surprised that a literary critic immersed in a milieu that rejects the possibility of anything transcendent, a milieu immersed in addictions and compulsions, cannot see the forest for the trees? In fact, Tolkien’s story speaks to addictive lures, as represented by the One Ring. How unaided man cannot resist such temptation—in Smeagol/Gollum who is possessed and then consumed by the Ring, in good Bilbo who oh-so-gradually is seduced by it, in Boromir who never possesses it but yearns for it from afar, in the faithful Sam who has it for a short time but equivocates in returning it to his Master, and in the heroic Frodo who cannot resist it’s power in the end. The truth that man is not made for such things is anything but a children’s story, and The Lord of the Rings informs us of this truth better than technical treatises and therapeutic programs.

 

Speaking of children’s stories, A.A. Milne wrote stories that take place in a tightly contained world—the world of childhood and a small corner of nature—until the last few chapters when the walls of Christopher Robin’s world start tumbling down, evoking the anticipation and specter of maturity. These are stories that intersect with life beyond the Thousand Acre Wood: the resentment Milne experienced from the constraints these stories imposed on his literary career, the resentment Christopher Robin experienced at how these stories constrained his later life, and the deeper truth about fathers and sons that resonate in these stories, the ideal that can never be achieved in this life but for which parents and their children yearn.

 

If knowledge and truth are what we seek, discernment is necessary in selecting both fiction and non-fiction. We’re kidding ourselves if we think non-fiction isn’t filtered by the preconceptions of authors and their sources. Everyone brings a perspective to his or her work, and the best are forthright about identifying the lines between evidence, speculation, and imagination.

 

We can find truth in many ways, including good stories.