Biblical Contradictions – They Exist and I Love Them

(This is a line of thought I’m still journeying through. You may find something helpful or not. It’s cool either way.)

In highschool, a lot of my atheist classmates would talk about contradictions in the Bible. I didn’t really pay much attention. I figured they were probably wrong. My pastors and youth leaders never mentioned these supposed contradictions so I figured it wasn’t worth worrying about.

When I got into the habit of listening to debates, I began to hear atheists point to specific contradictions. In response, the Christian apologists would calmly explain them away.

“Take the sentences ‘Bob is rich’ and ‘Bob is poor’. You might assume that these are contradictions, but perhaps they refer to Bob at different times in his life. Perhaps Bob is poor in finances, but rich in terms of relationships and experiences. Perhaps there are two different people named Bob. We can’t assume and we have to know more.” This is, of course, a very good point and I found it very comforting.

But then in a university class a professor pointed my discussion group to a passage in Proverbs. We were supposed to interpret it and share our interpretation.

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Proverbs 26:4,5

I read the first half thinking “Ah, reasonable.” Then the second verse completely froze me. “This is Proverbs. This is the book of rules to live by. I can’t do both of these things, so what do I do?” I tried to find ways to harmonize them – maybe you’re supposed to do it sometimes but not other times – but even then, am I not sitting there trying to fix the Bible? Am I not adding something to it?

Here’s another one. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us one thing, Paul tells us another.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” – Ecclesiastes 1:2,3
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

Well, which is it? Do we get nothing but vanity for our toil under the sun, or is our labour not in vain? I could list dozens more but sadly I must be concise. Here’s another one in which Chronicles and Samuel are talking about the same story.

“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” – 1 Chronicles 19:15
“Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”” – 2 Samuel 24:1

Chronicles: Satan did X. Samuel: God did X. Conclusion: … What?

If you’re anything like me, you’re sitting there trying to harmonize, harmonize, harmonize all of these passages. There may be nothing wrong with that. It’s a good impulse, but I fear we might miss out on something if that’s all we do. What that something is I will tell you, after one more example. Or rather, six more.

Open up to Matthew 5 and you’ll hear Jesus saying he’s not coming to abolish the law or the prophets. Then he goes on to repeat the formula “You have heard it said (quotes the Bible) but I tell you (says something different.)” So here we have a double whammy of contradictions. Six times, we have Jesus speaking in contrast to (“Contra Dicting”) other Bible passages, and he frames this by saying that he isn’t going to take an iota away from other Bible passages.

Right now, you’re either fascinated or really offended. Or both. Or you’re thinking the obvious objection that I’m going to cover in one second.

If the Bible is supposed to be a book of rules, it has clearly failed. I can’t both answer a fool according to folly and not answer a fool according to folly. If the Bible is supposed to be a philosophical panegyric, it has clearly failed. Labour can’t be both vanity and not vanity. If the Bible is supposed to be a textbook on spiritual realities, it has clearly failed. Unless God and Satan are the same person, David’s census has some weird stuff going on.

So it seems we’re left with two options. Maybe the Bible is a failure, or maybe we need to rethink its genre.

When I was in therapy, I learned a word. A word I had never learned from any western education institution; perhaps the entire western world needs therapy. “Dialectic.” Think Dialogue. It’s a conversation. Dialectic thinking simultaneously holds two propositions that seem to be in contrast. In therapy, if I’m caught in the anxiety of thinking I’m absolutely terrible or totally perfect, I’m going to have problems. If I can learn to accept that I’m both good and bad, virtuous in many ways while also having weaknesses to work through, that frees me. Now I can grow more easily.

My virtues and my vices are contradictory, but if I can hold them both as true at the same time then I am empowered to grow. The aforementioned objection that I assume you’re thinking is “But you’re defining ‘contradiction’ incorrectly. Contradictions are not simply contrasting statements, but statements with mutually exclusive meanings. You have to consider the meanings of these verses in context.” A brilliant point which highlights two important things: first that the word ‘contradiction’ needs defining (which I rarely hear happen) and tends to be wrapped up in shades of association, and second that we must ask ourselves what the Bible intends.

In the famous (and occasionally infamous) story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees try to back Jesus into a corner by asking him whether the woman ought to be stoned or not. Jesus redirects the question towards something more important. He seems to do this quite often, and what he does in saying “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” is highlight the Pharisee’s need for forgiveness. Jesus contextualizes our questions and frames our understanding in humility. This, I think, is the intention of the whole Bible.

The Bible does not give us all the answers, it points us to a person. It’s a conversation anchored around a person.

Do I answer the fool according to his folly or not? I don’t know, but if I follow the love ethic of Jesus then I’m sure I’ll make the right choice.

Is our labour vanity or not? I can philosophize over this, but if I’m trusting Christ then I know I won’t need to worry about it.

What is the relationship between the will of God and the will of Satan? Does God incite evil against us? A very interesting question, but one that must consider how God shows his love by participating in our suffering himself in the life and crucifixion of the Son of Mary.

People sometimes describe the Bible as “living” and this is why. A plain set of instructions is static. It’s dead. It only goes so deep and then it’s exhausted. A dialectic work keeps you wondering, keeps you asking questions. It is popularly said that Rabbis answer questions with other questions. This isn’t just deflection. We’re supposed to think deeper and, more importantly, better realize how the answers must be found with Jesus.

I recently listened to a sermon in which Bruxy of the Meeting House interviewed a Zen Buddhist. The Buddhist compared Jesus’ style of teaching with the Koan, the saying or question that’s supposed to freeze your mind and expose your unhealthy patters of thinking. While I think it’s important to recognize that Buddha and Christ have very different goals, there is some true to this. The Bible Project also has a great series that explores some the dialectic aspects of biblical wisdom literature.

In our broken world, if we desire change and growth, we don’t need a static book of precepts. We need someone who is going to freeze our attention, expose our habits, and “make foolish the wisdom of the world.” We need change, not the status quo. We need a living dynamic person to walk with as we grow in life and this is the Christ of the Bible.

This isn’t intellectual foreclosure. It does mean applying our intellect to something more important rather than squabbling over facts and figures. It means finding ourselves in a story, in relation to Christ, and making that the grounds upon which we ask ourselves, and each other, the big questions.

Take us away, Book…

it fixes you

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Offensive Jesus

I occasionally make trips into the downtown and pass by crowds of the homeless, mentally disabled, physically disabled, and otherwise down on their luck. I know I’m supposed to be compassionate but it’s difficult. Admitting that it’s difficult doesn’t change my responsibilities, but I acknowledge that I feel very uncomfortable around these people.

I also pass by smokers, drinkers, angry people, rude people, smelly people, and people who dress without any sense of modesty. They aren’t down on their luck, I think to myself. They aren’t victims of a broken world, they are irresponsible, stupid, immoral people. I start to get angry. I am deeply offended that people like that exist.

I only moved into the downtown a year ago. Before then I was a child in a good Christian home, later working the summers at a good Christian summer camp, and then going to a good private Christian university. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ugly side of the human condition but I almost never had to think about it and certainly didn’t have to regularly face it.

Now it’s becoming more and more apparent to me just what scum human beings can be and as this becomes clearer and clearer another idea becomes more prominent in tandem – these people are made in God’s image and he loves them.

Matthew 25 tells us that, to Jesus, the way we treat others is the way we treat him. When I was re-reading this chapter, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten a part of it. I remembered the parts where he talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked. That all sounds very good. But he also talks about visiting criminals and comforting them in prison.

So I’m to understand that God is so intimately connected with inmates (and who knows what horrible things they did to end up there) that I am to see them as the image of God and treat them as I would treat him? I previously thought I understood this but it only occurs to me now how scandalous – how offensive that idea is.

And it’s not just that. The entire story of Jesus is one big scandal. The rightful king of the universe gets born to a disreputable mother in a place where animals poop, condescends to be baptized by John (despite his protests), lives his life as a homeless weirdo, spends his time with corrupt government employees and adulterers, washes his disciples smelly feet like a servant, and then gets humiliated and killed. If I were to see this guy on my block, I think I’d cross to the other side of the road.

Imagine if some guy walked into your church, grabbed the baptismal font full of consecrated water for a holy sacrament, turned that water into beer, and gave it to the drunk guy outside. That’s sacrilegious. That’s the Marriage at Cana.

I am certainly not saying that Jesus isn’t holy and uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. In fact, I’m trying to say that Jesus is uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. Not the traditions, rituals, catechisms, etc. If I, who spent the first two decades of my life in Christian circles, can be suddenly jolted and upset by Jesus, then clearly it’s not enough to passively inherit a nominal faith. A living faith will upset you from time to time. It’ll offend you. If we’re in relationship with a real person and not a figure of our imagination, every now and then they’ll be someone we didn’t want or expect them to be. Then we have a choice to either walk away, or be uncomfortable for a while.

I am learning to see Christ in the people I would otherwise despise. It’s upsetting and I’m glad it is. It tells me I’m going in the right direction.

God is pure. God is morally perfect. God is worthy of our recognition, not in part but completely. And if I’m really after God, I have to recognize that one time he became really really unpleasant in order to make the rest of us unpleasant people, including myself at times, more like him.

On the Subjective Banality of Talent

I’m blessed to have been an adult when I fell in love with choral music. Why blessed? Well, I find that the things we come to love in childhood end up being taken for granted. I can’t remember a world without television so I can’t remember ever being struck by its wonder and complexity. In fact, I mostly find television annoying. When you discover things as an adult you appreciate them better. You “remember the day you fist met”, so to speak.

The first time in university when I sat in the auditorium listening to vigorously rehearsed and polished choral music produced live in real space, I felt like I had just seen a new colour that never existed before. It was so captivating. And I remember thinking “I have to at least try to join this choir and participate in this glorious art!”

Then there followed the romance of how I ended up joining the choir. It became perhaps the most impactful, moving, and transformitive experience of my life. I’ve recited that romance before and I will again a thousand times, but a part I often leave out is a very encouraging anticlimax.

The first piece I ever performed with the choir was Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit- which is beautiful and wonderful and one of the single most important choral pieces to me personally, yadda yadda yadda. But singing it was very different to what I heard sitting in the audience 6 months prior.

The audience experiences the piece as a whole; all its harmonies and movements. The singer, conversely, is on a battlefield. The singer has to pay attention to his part and remain attentive to the direction of the conductor. The singer sacrifices enjoyment of the whole in order to know his place and play his part. It’s still a wonderful experience, but it is a different experience that may not grasp the full beauty of the piece.

I was half-expecting the sound to be more beautiful from the stage, but it was actually less.

And this makes me think about talents. I often compliment others on their talents and skills only to have them have seemingly no clue what I’m talking about. I’ve also had people say very nice things to me about things that I wouldn’t consider impressive at all.

Perhaps it is just the nature of our talents that, when we are performing or exercising them, we don’t see their full beauty. But we can take on faith the praises of our friends and appreciate ourselves through their applause. And perhaps it’s better this way. Perhaps this keeps us humble.

So here’s the takeaway: you are probably much more impressive than you think. Appreciate the people around you and own the applause when it comes your way. What you do may not feel like much but if you saw someone else doing the exact same thing, you might just be blown away.

As regards my choir romance, there were a thousand powerful moments that followed that one anticlimax, but I’m glad it happened. It taught me that what feels like the average day to me might actually be worth much more.

Stupid Peace

I generally like to write blog posts that are self-contained isolated thoughts, but today what I happen to have on my mind piggybacks what I wrote about anxiety last time.

There, I mentioned that my brain “handles” differently now. I have a bit more control over where my thoughts go than I used to. I can steer them, but they don’t turn on a dime. Anxiety still strikes, but now I can do something about it.

A phrase from the Bible that has followed me around for quite a long time is “The peace that passes understanding,” (Phil 4:7). The thing is, I’ve never quite understood what that means. The “peace that passes understanding” passes my understanding. I can partially grasp the idea: because we know that we’re in God’s hands, we can have peace even if everything in our life, as we understand it, is falling apart. We have a peace that transcends what we see in our day to day life.

The problem with this concept is that we’re necessarily giving something up. We handing over our security in ourselves (or lack thereof) and in a self-effacing surrender we’re giving up our desire to be in control and in the know.

This completely irrational foreclosure of individual understanding is called “Trust” and I hate it.

On a similar note, Proverbs 3:5 tells to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” To Western ears, this is the most ridiculous and offensive idea anyone could come up with – willfully not understanding. I imagine it’s also, to those of us prone to anxiousness, extremely attractive.

So I’m still struggling to achieve functional adulthood (whatever that means) and today I was told by my dentist that I might need an unexpected procedure donet. A minor procedure for a minor problem, but a pricey one. And on the walk back I was worrying a lot. But then I took the reins of my Serotonin-replete brain and thought “What if I just choose not to worry about it?”

“Yeah, it feels incredibly stupid to not worry about it because it’s a rather harsh blow to the bank account. It’s an objectively miserable thing to have to deal with, but worrying about it doesn’t get me to a solution any faster so why I don’t I just skip the anxiousness phase and make the most of my day?”

And then I went home and took what a friend of mine calls a “depression nap.” You know, when sleeping is easier than thinking about the thing. Again, it doesn’t turn on a dime, but it can be gradually nudged in the right direction.

The peace that passes understanding is a stupid peace because we, in and of ourselves, have no reason- we see no cause for peace. We, in and of ourselves, have no control. But if there’s someone we can trust watching out for us, maybe a little bit of stupidity isn’t just quite pleasant but in fact the most rational response.

It might take a few hours, it might take a few days, but I’ll get past this emotional bump in the road and hop back on the highway to peace. The way there is rather counter-intuitive but it gets easier once you get the hang of it.

A Journey with Anxiety

When I was in elementary school, I was always afraid of my teachers being mad at me.
When I was in high school, I would get very nervous about being at the right place at the right time if my parents were picking me up anywhere.
When I was working at a bakery, I found it physically difficult to walk in the door for fear of my boss being mad at me.
When I was working at summer camp, I hated having to take responsibility for the campers.
When I was in university, I felt immensely pressured by due dates.
Since graduating, I’ve been terribly fearful over money and employment.

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SSRIs

I’m anxious. I used to tell myself that all my anxiety was just circumstantial and that I’d feel better once my circumstances changed. But I could only tell myself that so many times before I started to grow suspicious of myself.

Only a few months back, I had a panic attack for which I went to the emergency room. I thought I was having a heart attack but the doctors told me I was fine. I felt a bit better afterwards but I still cringe to remember it.

Then, shortly before Christmas, some dreadful havoc was unleashed on my stomach. Apparently anxiety messes with your digestive tract. My appetite was suffering and it was painful to eat. I was losing weight and there were a couple mornings that I felt almost too weak to stand.

When I finally went to my family doctor, he prescribed me two things: a strong antacid, and a light sedative. He told me that I was hyperventilating. I thought that I was breathing normally. Looking back, I must have been hyperventilating on and off for almost a week.

I went home and took the antacid and sedative and my appetite immediately increased a little bit. There were some other tests done and a variety of drugs, but I still felt very fearful even though I was starting to get better. Then I was prescribed a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.

SSRIs balance out chemicals in the brain that make emotions happen. If your Serotonin levels are too low, you get depressed or anxious or obsessive. SSRIs can take a while to start having their effect. You might take them for two months before any noticeable change.

And there are the side effects, which were worse than average for me since my stomach was already not doing well. On the night after I took the first pill, I woke up at three in the morning and threw up. It took several weeks for the side effects to subside.

Now a couple months have passed. The side effects have faded, but even better – my anxiety is far better. It’s not gone but it’s lower. I still have anxious thoughts, but they pass more easily. Even better still – I now find it much easier to find satisfaction in the small things in life. The beauty of a house in my neighbourhood, an interesting piece of poetry, playing with my roommate’s dogs. All these things add up and make life much more enjoyable.

We sometimes talk about ‘handling’ with vehicles or ‘controls’ with videogames – the interaction between the user’s intentions and the behaviour of the thing being acted upon. My brain handles differently now. Just a bit, but a noticeable bit. Not enough to make me a different person, but enough to make me less afraid. I feel less shy in conversations and less inhibited in my actions (on one occasion getting me into trouble with a mall security guard, but now I don’t cringe as much when I remember it.)

And I now know with deeper understanding that there is a me that is more than the condition of my brain. There is some me that is deeper than even my thoughts and thought patterns. Those may change, but there’s some ineffable quality that doesn’t.

When I was home around Christmas, I could barely eat because my anxiety had messed up my stomach so much. When I was home just last week, my dad was complaining that I was eating too much. I was never so grateful to be considered a glutton. I am blessed to know that there are people in my life who support me, blessed to know that I’m not alone, and blessed to know that troubled times pass.

I don’t think it’s mere wishful thinking to tell a suffering person, as my parent did, “Ooh, Child. Things are gonna get easier.”

About Old Books

I both love and hate owning old books. I love it because old things are awesome. I love the mystery of reading an old book and picking up occasional clues as to who owned it before and where it came from. I love the look, the feel, and the smell of old books. It turns reading into a very sensory experience.

old book

 

I hate it because old books grow fragile. As I read them and use them, I often can’t shake the thought that I am contributing to their wear. I feel guilty about touching it.

At one point I got my hands on a cheap Latin Bible that was over a hundred years old. It was beautiful and also very portable. I could fit it in my pocket. One time I was casually reading it in my university dorm room. I opened it gently but the fragility of the binding was greater than my exceptional care and the hard cover tore from the spine. I’ve done a lot of morally questionable things in my life but breaking that Bible was definitely the worst.

So my antiquarian bibliophilia presents a conflict of interests. I want to own old books because I love them but I also think that far more deserving people should own them because I know they can care for them better.

I was thinking about this dilemma while waiting for the bus a few days ago and something occurred to me. My use of the centenarian Vulgate led to its partial destruction but it also lead to me better understanding the Latin language. The book ages but the words on the page and the language itself find new life. I may have contributed to the wear of the book but I’m contributing to the continuation of the language and text at the same time.

The physical vessel for the words, the book, is worn down but the words find a new physical vessel, myself. I’m not going to go around destroying books on purpose now, but ancient things find new life when we study them and carry them forward.

One of my favourite pieces of music is The Seikilos Epitaph, which according to Wikipedia is “the oldest complete surviving musical composition.” I’ve committed it to memory and its tune is one of the things I’ll whistle to myself while impatiently waiting for the bus.

If I were to go back to first century Ephesus where the epitaph was found, I would have something in common with them right off the bat. It’s nice to know I have friends 2000 years ago.

Physical things are still well worth preserving. In fact, they should absolutely be preserved and by people more capable than myself. 100 year old books are not actually all that rare but there are things that are hundreds or thousands of years old that should probably be out of my reach. But we can all play our part in preserving the beauty of ancient things by studying them and sharing them.

As for damaging the old Vulgate, I will turn myself into the police immediately.

Sleep, Surrender, and Death (And Hope)

In highschool I became fascinated with sleep. No, I don’t mean that I spent a lot of time sleeping. I was actually routinely underslept throughout highschool. Rather, I thought about the idea of sleep a lot during my waking hours.

This is the thing that fascinated me: when I fall asleep, I completely relinquish conscious control over myself. I am no longer self aware, no longer thinking, no longer feeling. Yet somehow when I wake up (a thing that happens outside my conscious control) I’m still me. I still have the same memories, same interests, same skills, etc. But now I feel even better for having rested, more energetic and more alive.

Forget all the science for a moment and think of the personal experience of it. As far as you are aware, you stop existing. Then you pop back into existence some time later and think “Man, I sure am glad I stopped existing for 8 whole hours.” Humans are weird.

Over the past few months, I was the most sick I have ever been. For a couple weeks I could barely eat, was loosing weight, and in pretty routine stomach pain. It seems that what I was dealing with was the physiological consequences of anxiety, which is now being treated effectively. During the worst of it, however, I couldn’t do much more than lie on the couch and hope I wasn’t dying.

I couldn’t do the things that make me me. I had no energy to read, write, sing, or act. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t me anymore.

Then after it was all over and I started getting better, suddenly my motivation to do things had grown. I started spending a lot more time reading and my desire to do other things increased.

All throughout this journey, I spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about death. Death is scary. Death is unknown and unpleasant. Death is the ultimate release of all our control, all our awareness, and all the things that make us who we are. And though none of us can claim to have perfect knowledge of how it works, most human beings believe in some kind of life after death.

We sleep, but something sustains us. We fall, but something catches us.

And it reminds me of the words of Christ when he said “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is the unpleasantness of surrendering to something, but the story doesn’t end there.

While I was sick I had to have a procedure done for which I was sedated. When they administered the anesthetic, I was out in seconds and completely out of my control. Then the next thing I knew, before I was aware of sights or sounds of the recovery room, before I was even aware of my own body, before anything else entered my consciousness, the words “Our Father, hallowed be your name” flashed into my mind. Then slowly my mind drifted back into the recovery room and I ate a slice of pizza and my mom was there.

If this is a picture of what death is like, maybe I can spend a little less time being afraid of it and a little more time enjoying life.

Trinity Western – From Policies to Hearts

As I write this, the outcome of Trinity Western University’s supreme court case is not yet resolved. I write this before the issue has resolved intentionally. No matter how this ends (though I hope for TWU’s success) there are some things I think we need to recognize.

First of all, for those not in the know, TWU’s law program has come under fire for allegedly being discriminatory against the LGTBQ2 (etc.) community. Students of the university are expected to comply with some standards of sexual conduct that reflect the beliefs and practices of Evangelical Christians and it seems that many vocal parties have expressed concern that this is discriminatory and wrong. The question then becomes this: do we accredit law graduates from such a controversial school?

This is what I gather from the various articles I’ve read and the issue is certainly far more complex than how I represent it but I don’t want to get lost in the details. I want to focus on some things that will remain important for Christians no matter how this resolves and that’s the condition of people’s hearts.

1. We must respond in love. As ambassadors of Christ, whatever happens to us, we must endure as he does. We love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who persecute us. This doesn’t mean that we do nothing. It means that we actively respond in love and in grace and in service to the world.

2. We have enemies. Whether or not TWU wins, we’re in this situation because there are people who hate the Church in their hearts. The outcomes of court cases doesn’t change hearts. Our work of loving our enemies doesn’t end if TWU wins.

3. We have an image to defend. In the eyes of many, one must either affirm all lifestyles or be guilty of hatred and malice. We need to work to embody and demonstrate a middle way, one that can disagree with a lifestyle while loving and serving a person. Like Jesus did. We should also acknowledge that people who come from this very binary angle aren’t insane. Church groups have done and continue to do some very non Christ-like things to all kinds of minority groups. This can reasonably create concern. We need to address this with truth and love.

4. What’s at stake. Surrounding this issue is a lot of talk about religious freedom. I’ve heard some politically right-leaning Christians express concern about “secular totalitarianism.” While I find such buzzwords tend to obscure the conversation rather than clarify it, there is an issue of tolerance here. How do we handle differences in worldview? Is there room for differing perspectives on sexual ethics? If it’s a binary choice as above between affirmation or hatred then probably not, but I think the issue is more complex than that. I hope we can find ways to have constructive conversation rather than trying to shut each other down.

5. What’s not at stake. We are not citizens of Canada. We are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. The homeland is secure. We don’t need to be worried about the future of our culture being defended by earthly policy. Deep breaths.

6. Nothing new. I am reminded of the stories of Shadrach, Meshackh, and Abednego, of David and the Lion’s Den, and of all the stories of early church persecution. And of course, I am reminded of Jesus. This may be a good time to read up on their examples.

As a final note, as a graduate from a private Christian university, this issue is very personal to me. I believe in the value of Christ-centered education and having more Godly lawyers in Canada could only be to our benefit. I do hope and pray that the Supreme Court finds favour with TWU and upholds their rights but this event is part of a larger story in which it is all of our responsibility to participate, no matter what happens.

Beer and Coffee

I often think about the relationship between inspiration and discipline in writing. Both are necessary. Inspiration is necessary because without a subject to write about and a belief in its value there is little reason to write. However the passion of inspiration comes and goes and if one becomes a slave to that passion then nothing will ever be finished. That’s where discipline comes in.

I idly wonder if marriages work kinda similar. There needs to be love but raw feeling won’t get you through every circumstance. There also needs to be commitment.

I’ve also heard the two aspects of the writing process described in terms of beer and coffee. When you drink enough beer, your inhibitions disappear and your lubricated imagination spews forth all sorts of ridiculous ideas. If one such idea is to be carried to completion, the writer needs to put the beer away at some point and focus; caffeine may be necessary to get the writer through long nights of writing.

When I was in highschool and in the earlier years of university, I was great at the beer end of things but not so great at the coffee part. I had lots of ideas, more ideas than I knew how to handle. But I couldn’t bring a project to completion and I certainly couldn’t self-edit. Poems I could finish, beautiful in their brevity, but a longer work was an impossibility.

University taught me the coffee part. I could focus, manage deadlines, self-edit, and employ all the other necessary skills. What I lost in the labyrinth of school bureaucracy and assignment minutiae was the imagination. I could finish a project easily, it was just near-impossible to start one.

So the question then becomes this: how do you get that back? How do you get back the sense of wonder, imagination, and inspiration once it’s lost. Or, perhaps, ‘misplaced’ is a better word. I’ve had it recommended to me that I should try stream of consciousness writing which has had some success. I can get words on the screen daily. Nothing to be particularly proud of as an artist but at least it’s enjoyable.

However I recover the sense of wonder/love/beer/etc, I’m certain it will happen. Not because I have some prophetic vision but because I am resolved to maintain the practice of writing until it does.

And that’s why I’ll make a great husband. Or writer. Or something.

Grateful for Ingratitude

Holidays don’t usually hold much weight for me. My birthday? I often feel insecure about it. Christmas? I celebrate Jesus everyday. Valentine’s day? Gross. For one reason or another, none of the holidays ever grab me. Usually.

It’s now the weekend of Canadian thanksgiving and I’m left with some uncomfortable convictions. The past year has been difficult for me. I’ve been unemployed, confused, discouraged, lonely, and feeling rather useless. Meanwhile, various friends from my graduating class have had jobs, mentorships, apprenticeships, travels, relationships, weddings, and successful projects of various kinds.

At least, that’s the way I’ve been thinking of it. My apparent failure contrasted with the  progress of my peers.

About a year ago, I decided to conduct a little thought experiment. The Dwarves in the Warhammer universe maintain a Book of Grudges, a record of all the offences committed against their race to be avenged. I was also thinking of the part of Esther where the sleepless king has the records of his reign read to him, and the passage in 1 Corinthians that says “Love keeps no record of wrongs,” and all these thoughts turned into the following.

book of gratitude

The Book of Gratitude – A record of the people in my life and the kindnesses they pay me, from favours to good conversations. And the occasional note of gratitude for health or something like that when I feel like it.

So after a year it should be about full right? I have filled… two pages. Two. There are about 25 entries. If in 365 days I can think of only 25 things to be thankful for, something has gone wrong. I am not in absolute control of my circumstances but I am in control of my attitudes and clearly I have dropped the ball.

A successful thought experiment! For the reason that it has exposed the destructive tendencies of my thinking. Gratitude can be difficult sometimes, but it may be in those times that gratitude becomes the most important. Even if you can only remember 25 things over the course of a year, that’s far better than being completely alone and hopeless.

And if gratitude is a skill then, like any skill, it must be cultivated through exercise and effort. Through strain. It’s easy to have a superficial gratitude when things are going your way. When things aren’t going your way, you find deeper and more important reasons to be thankful. For life, for relationships, etc. Then when fortune turns in your favour again, you won’t take life and relationships for granted.

Furthermore, we should never forget that the good things we enjoy from conversations to cars are all gifts from God and so long as we have him with us (we never don’t) we always have a reason to be grateful.

So this Thanksgiving weekend, I will remember to be grateful for friends, family, food, health, hope, heaven, and all the other things we are normally grateful for. But I’ll also be grateful for the lesson I take from my own ingratitude. I may not have traveled or gotten married this past year but I will be grateful for how this year has informed my character. By October 2018, I think the the Book of Gratitude will be full.