Every morning, when I pull my shaving cream from the medicine cabinet, there is a picture of a small bunny on the side of the can. Under the picture are the words “Cruelty free”. That is my daily reminder that somewhere out there, a shaving cream company is shaving bunnies.
There is a guiding principle of second-order thinking explained by G. K. Chesterton in his book The Thing.
There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
While Chesterton was thinking of social structures, this is a good principle in many areas, including computer software. Many of us in the early days of our programming careers (because of course, we’ve all learned our lesson and never fall for this anymore) come across a line of clearly useless code. Its removal would improve readability and have no negative impact, and so it is discarded. Only later did we discover that that piece of code was instrumental in preventing some error we hadn’t even realized was possible.Continue reading →
Recently I had the chance to spend some time with my brother and his family at a nice house with a creek running nearby. Soon the kids and adults were splashing around in the water. Someone, possibly my brother, suggested to the kids that they have a boat race. They would pick a boat and float it down the stream, and see which one reached the finish line first. I stood downstream to catch the boats before they drifted away to the sea.
Having no actual boats, it was up to each child to select their water craft. Miranda selected a long grass-like blade from a plant, which she was quite confident would be the fastest boat. Her oldest cousin, Eva, selected a leaf. After some consideration, she connected it to another leaf with a stick. Upon further review, she removed the stick and returned to her single-leaf design. Eva’s younger sister, Mya, selected a charred piece of wood from the fire pit. Jay, the youngest and only boy, selected a rock.
His dad, a teacher, laughed, and pointed out to Jay that his rock would not float. Jay pondered this for a moment before agreeing that it would be better to switch boats. He chose a different rock.
The charred wood won.
“What do you reckon is the bandwidth of the Almighty?” Jonesy asked as he hung his lanky frame through my office doorway. I had been up all night going over the latest report from accounting, but he looked as though he’d had even less sleep. Impressively dark circles hung around eyes that were shining like I’d never seen.
“What?” I asked, startled by the sudden interruption.
“The Almighty? You think we could…” He trailed off. “It’ll be easier if I just show ya,” he said. “I have some charts pulled up in the conference room. This is gonna be huge, Jimbo!”Continue reading →
It’s now the seventh week of the COVID-19 outbreak. Electricity has been out for nearly a month, and I’m running low on ammunition and gun oil. The looting has slowed now that the virus has fully taken hold. Some joker set up a solar panel in a tree to play It’s the End of the World on a loop all day long. I can only hope he died in agony shortly thereafter. I’ve considered cutting down the tree, but don’t want to waste the battery for my chainsaw in case the zombies come back. I’d ask you to tell my family I love them, but I know none of us will survive this. If only I’d hoarded more toilet paper.
Our congregation has started out the new year with a series about the parables in the book of Luke. This is right up my alley, and last Sunday we tackled the parable of the Good Samaritan. Since we’re supposed to sit quietly and not ask questions, I have a lot of pent up ideas. Fortunately, I have a website.
For those of you who don’t trust me, you can find the full text in Luke 10:25-37, but I’m going to rehash it here. An expert in the law asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This may be the earliest recorded instance of someone asking this question of a Rabbi, but it became very popular as Jewish eschatology advanced in the following centuries. Jesus, being a proper Rabbi, returned the question to the expert, treating the expert as his student. The man was not deterred and answered “Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus praised the scholar, but the scholar was only coming to his real point. “And who is my neighbor?” he asked Jesus.
This question might seem strange to us, but to the culture of Jesus’s time it was a big deal. They were trying to maintain their cultural identity and their unique relationship with God. To do that, you needed to associate only with like-minded people, and Jesus seemed to have a problem with that. He wasn’t sticking to the devout Jews only, but had picked up a following of sinners and tax-collectors, and there was some concern that he might even have dealings with less savory characters like Samaritans or Gentiles.
So Jesus tells a story. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho (probably to avoid going through Samaria), when he was attacked and robbed. His body was left broken and barely clinging to life along the road when a priest, on his way to the temple, passed by. He saw this man and his plight, and quickly crossed to the other side of the road and continued to Jerusalem. Soon, a Levite, also heading for his duties at the temple, came along. He likewise saw the suffering man and crossed the road to avoid him. Finally, a despised Samaritan came up the road. He saw the beaten man and had compassion. He tended the man’s wounds and carried him to safety. “Who was a neighbor here?” asked Jesus.
The expert in the law could only reply “The one who had mercy on him.”
In the sermon last Sunday we heard about the importance of caring for those in need. We even heard about the need to avoid racism and xenophobia, important messages at times such as these. Yet I cannot believe that was the point of the story Jesus told. I just think the real meaning is something we have a little trouble talking about in Christian circles.
The story is not, as we might hope, about a Jew reaching out to help a struggling outsider. This is a story about the Kingdom of God and how to live out God’s will, and like most of Jesus’s parables the problem is religion. All Jews knew they should love their neighbor, and this man who was beaten and left for dead was certainly a neighbor in need. The problem was that there were other laws that superseded helping someone in need. In particular, people doing holy jobs, such as this priest and Levite, needed to maintain their purity to do their jobs. Touching a potentially dead body or getting contaminated by blood would rendered them unfit for service. In order to maintain the temple this suffering man had to be left to die. It was only the Samaritan, with no theological statement to make, who could actually get down and help the wounded.
The message to the expert in the law, and to us, is to stop worrying about keeping up our holiness and get down into the trenches with those who are in need. Jesus was not opposing God by reaching out to the unclean of his society. He was doing his will.
I think the relevance of this message is hard to deny. How would the world be better if we could reach out to the divorced person, the unwed mother, the homosexual, and the drug addict without fearing what our peers may think? What would they think if we cared more about binding up wounds than maintaining our purity? As Jesus told the expert, “Go and do likewise.”
My parents live back a series of gravel roads in the lower foothills of the Appalachian mountain range. Their next door neighbor is a country song come to life. He lives in a trailer. His wife left him. His dog died.
To make matters worse, his son and his son’s wife had been living in his trailer. He started building a barn-like structure behind the trailer for them to live in once their baby was born, but after the birth of their child and associated domestic squabbles, both left, leaving behind a half-completed structure and five cats.
Not being a man familiar with the concept of house cats, he has done the best he could, setting out boxes with straw in them, and placing food out for them regularly. However, the cats are left, as cats often are, to wander freely wherever their feline desires lead.Continue reading →
Since God is a father, maybe it would make his day to see his children playing nicely with the other kids, being patient, growing, learning, and happily spending time with him.
I have not, despite all indications to the contrary, died. I have, however, been busier than I ever wish to be again. I make no promises that content will be coming regularly. I just wanted the world to know that Bob is still alive (and for that matter, so are Kelly and Miranda).
I confess I am not a cook. Since I got married, Kelly has taken care of nearly every aspect of meal preparation. I am only called upon for the occasional omelette, bacon, or burger. I am mostly capable of following a recipe, so if something comes in a box with instructions on the side I generally feel competent to prepare it, but foods without such aids are beyond me.
Nevertheless, the other day Kelly asked me to prepare baked potatoes. There is a “baked potato” setting on our microwave, and I have used that with some level of success in the past, but Kelly wanted me to use her easy oven recipe. I preheated the oven to four-hundred degrees, popped any growing eyes off the potatoes, washed them in the sink, and, once preheating was complete, placed the potatoes into the oven. Per Kelly’s instruction, I set the timer for forty-five minutes.
At the appointed time, I put on the oven mitt and proceeded to lift the potatoes out of the oven and place them onto a cutting board. The second potato had its own plan. When I set the potato down, it promptly exploded. The skin was separated from the potato and launched onto the still open oven door. Potato shrapnel flew from one side of the kitchen to the other, leaving a trail of white potato shards on the oven, floor, and cabinets. The pulverized core of the potato remained sitting on the cutting board.
And that is why Miranda had mashed potatoes for dinner last night.