Monthly Archives: October 2013
One thing that never fails to amaze me is how different people can be. We live in a world filled with billions of people, who make up innumerable little communities that are part of millions of cultures, sub cultures, classes, ethnicities, etc. It’s shocking to realize that the vast majority of people on Earth have a completely different outlook from yourself. It’s surprising enough when just two people, who are part of the same culture, look at something and come to two completely different conclusions right off the bat.
This marvelous fact was once again brought to my attention just two days ago.
I was browsing around the internet when I came across an article titled “The Five Reasons You (Yes You) Should Embrace Fine Dining.” This caught my eye. I’m not exactly a fine dining kind of person. I like my food to be affordable. I scarf it down. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a one star restaurant, much less anything fancier. I know what a maître d’ is the same way I know what a wolverine is; from books and television, not actual experience. On the other hand this article was speaking to me. My interest was aroused.
The first item on the list was to “forget special occasions.” Fine dining shouldn’t be reserved for special days, they said. Life is an occasion and a night out at a fancy restaurant should be an event unto itself. Fair enough, I thought. Nothing wrong with that. Already my eyes were moving to the next list item, which was titled “Fine Dining is Affordable Luxury.” Here is where it’s at. My spirits rose with hope: perhaps fine dining is relatively affordable.
Then I read the first sentence: “Yes, when you start looking at check averages that hover above $200 per person before tax and tip, you start doing math in your head.”
Two…..$200 for a meal? Like just for a single person?
Before tax and tip?!
In retrospect I don’t know what I expected. But I know I didn’t expect that. I was shocked. If a meal costs $10 I think it’s on the pricy side. The most expensive meals I’ve ever eaten are well under $25 a person. That’s not hyperbole: I can’t think of a single possible situation in my life where my part of the check would have been more than $25, which for me is almost sinfully expensive. $200 per person? WHAT.
I told myself to calm down. There’s more to read. Perhaps $200 plates are for the really, really fancy places and this article is about to tell me the affordable price they promised. I was disappointed. Instead they merely tried to justify the expense. Which is fine, but doesn’t help me. I don’t care if the meal is really worth $200. My problem is that paying $200 for a meal is insane from my point of view. It’s incomprehensible. It’s like if someone offered to sell you a giant gold statue of yourself for $7 million dollars. You probably wouldn’t doubt that a giant solid gold statue was worth $7 mill; but you also would think that it’s ridiculous that someone would consider buying one a good idea.
Their final bit of advice was to put that $200 a person in perspective. “Break it down per hour: if you hit $250 per person you will most likely be dining for three-plus hours, roughly $80 per hour. You cannot get a spa treatment for that, nor a lawyer, nor a Ferrari, nor a weekend in St. Bart’s.”
I hate to wear the word out, but, WHAT?!
I don’t go to the spa! I don’t buy Ferraris! I’ve never even dreamed of taking a vacation to St. Bart’s. That’s a vacation for rich people. I dream of someday saving up enough money to visit Disneyland. That’s the height of my vacation dreams. To me, Disneyland is an expensive vacation that will require quite some time to save up for. St. Bartholomew’s isn’t even on the menu. I can’t think of an analogy that could express my dismay right now. It’s like….it’s like…it’s like TELLING SOMEONE THEY CAN AFFORD $200+ PER PLATE BECAUSE IT’S CHEAPER THAN A WEEKEND AT ST. BARTHOLOMEW’S. It is the ridiculous parody analogy! It is a reductio ad absurdum unto itself.
Now my point here isn’t to say “Look at this crazy person! He’s so out of touch with reality!” Because for him, and for thousands of other people his whole article makes perfect sense. They get it. To them I am the crazy person. I’m the one who is out of touch with reality. Honestly most of the time when we talk about “reality” we really mean “my own particular worldview that is unique to my culture, class, ethnicity, and time period.” When I read this article what struck me wasn’t how crazy its advice was but rather how far removed it was from my own life. For me going to Olive Garden is something reserved for a special occasion. The fanciest restaurant I’ve ever been in is Claim Jumper. Red Lobster is a luxury restaurant from my point of view. $200 a plate was never the realm of possibility for me. I don’t even know where I could find a restaurant like that: where are they? How would I find one? They don’t seem like something that exists in my world. Mentally I cannot place where a $200 a plate restaurant would be. I have to relegate such things to places I’ve never been: New York City, Paris, etc. It occurs to me that there is probably one in Seattle, but my brain can’t actually picture it.
Some of you may agree with me, and some may not. I actually would like to hear from both sides. Does anyone find my response to this article startling? If so, please comment. Though it can be a shock to my system I love to talk to people who exist in very different worlds from myself. I just wish I could talk to the author of this article. I’d love to understand his point of view.
A few years ago I read Their Eyes Were Watching God for some class or another. Near the end of the story the main characters find themselves living on the mud flats of Florida, harvesting beans for a living. They’re happy and while it’s harvest season they can make enough money to get by; and the harvest weather is beautiful. Not a cloud in the sky. Then one day a caravan of Natives goes through their area. The workers are used to seeing the Natives move inland before storm season hits, but this year the Natives are significantly early. The Natives warn the workers there that they’ve read the signs, and a terrible storm is coming, and coming earlier than usual. The workers dismiss the Native’s warning. After all the weather was fantastic, clear blue from horizon to horizon. The main characters get a little worried, but they know that every day they stay and harvest means more money for the off season. Their income is too much to risk on the possibility of a bad storm. So they stay and the weather holds out for another week before, naturally, the biggest storm of the century shows up, a huge lake bursts it’s banks, the flats are violently flooded, and thousands of people are killed. Who couldn’t see that coming?
When I read through that section I got really upset with the main characters. I wished that I could hop into the book and give the workers on the flats a talking to. I wished I could be in their place and tell everyone “The Natives have been here longer than anyone else; they know what they’re talking about. If you stay here you’ll probably die. As for me and my family, we’re moving inland.” Why did people have to be so foolish?
Lets leave the book and find a new scene; Anchorage, Alaska, two weeks ago. One day while driving to work my wife noticed some ice on the roads. We knew that we would need to acquire some studded snow tires. I’ve seen Anchorage in the middle of winter before: the ice never melts, it just builds up on the roads until there’s a good inch or two of compacted ice on top of the asphalt. I know there is some controversy over whether people should use studded tires, but if there is anywhere it is justified it’s up here. I knew that driving on Anchorage ice with my summer tires (which were already worn from driving all the way up here from Oregon) was foolishness of the highest order. Over the weekend I called local tire dealers for quotes until I found the best deal. Naturally even the best deal was a lot of money. Still, I knew I couldn’t go without.
Then the weather got nice. Anchorage was hit with some unseasonably warm weather. The skies were clear, the air was nice, and the roads showed no sign of icing. Still this was just a freak warm spell. Winter was still coming. The roads were still going to become little ice rinks before long. So naturally I thanked God for this buffer period and had the tires put on. Right?
Actually I let the warm weather lull me into complacency. I really didn’t want to spend that much money. I knew I had to, but I didn’t want to. So I just put it off. I stopped thinking about it. I enjoyed the warm weather.
When I got into the car this Monday there was ice on the windshield.
I spent the whole day cursing my own foolishness. I checked the weather report and it confirmed my fears: ice was coming, and a lot of it. I was putting myself in serious danger. I was putting my wife in serious danger. And it was all because I chose to ignore what I knew to be true because it was sunny and I wanted to save money.
In other words pretty much exactly like those workers in the story who I berated for being fools.
The moral of the story is that we are all susceptible to do foolish things. We are all wired on some level to believe that what we have now will last forever. It’s sunny today, so it will always be sunny. We want to believe that. Wisdom is putting such feelings aside and doing what you know needs to be done.
Otherwise the results could be lethal.
NOTE: I did manage to get some snow tires last minute, so don’t worry too much about me.
I just want everyone to know that, for the vast majority of us, there will never be enough money. When I was unemployed I thought having a nice job that makes over 20k a year would be all I would need. After I got the job I started budgeting things out, and realized that at this rate we’d still be in school debt for ten years. So I thought, if my wife finds a job then we’ll have enough money. Now she’s got a fairly good prospect, but after I run the numbers again it still doesn’t feel like enough. I look at all the people out there making 50-100k a year and I think “That would be more money then I could ever need.”
But I think the simple thing is that if I ever made that much money it would still be less than I’d like.
The wise thing isn’t to seek a larger paycheck. It’s to be thankful for what you have, be generous to those who have less, and to understand that money is a means to an end. Remember that your money serves you; you do not serve money, and you should be prepared to dismiss your servant at a moments notice.
Another just generally good piece of advice is to avoid debt. Debt seems like an insurmountable mountain. If it was just myself I had to worry about than 20k would be more than enough. It’s looking at my debt that makes me desperate for more. So if you can avoid all debt. If you can’t, or it’s too late for that, remember that your debt does not rule you either.
Personally I’m not a huge fan of blog posts that mostly consist of a verse from the Bible. Not that I have anything against the Bible, mind you. I just don’t like seeing a post that consists of two lines of actual writing followed by a massive chunk of text in italics. Yet I can’t begrudge others for making posts like this because sometimes something in the Bible really stands out to a writer. I spent some time trying to come up with a different blog post today but this verse seems to be the fixation of my mind. So I thought I’d paraphrase it for you at least, and put a link to the original at the bottom.
The is a list of instructions on how a Christian should behave, given by the missionary Paul to the Christians of Rome. Rome was the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the known world at the time. For those of us who claim the name of Christ and live among a mostly unbelieving community this list should come in handy. Those who do not believe and wish to spot the illusive “true Christian” in its natural habitat may find the list handy as well.
MARKS OF A TRUE CHRISTIAN:
1. Their love is genuine.
2. They hate evil things and will not let go of good things.
3. The love each other no matter what.
4. They seem to compete to give each other more honor than they recieve.
5. Many specimens have an intense passion for serving their God.
6. They celebrate the good times, are patient in the bad times, and pray all the time.
7. They help everyone with their money and time, even complete strangers.
8. They don’t badmouth anyone, even those who hurt and take advantage of them; instead they treat them like friends!
9. They know how to party when someone celebrates; they also know how to cry with someone in pain.
10. They don’t claim to be better than anyone and they don’t seem to know who the “wrong crowd” to hang out with is.
11. They don’t claim to be wiser than they know they are.
12. When someone hurts them they don’t try to hurt them back.
13. Some are pacifists and some aren’t: but either way they try to live as peaceably as they can.
14. They don’t try to get revenge on anyone: instead they help out their enemies when they’re in need.
15. They never let bad things keep them from being good.
Though I have reviewed books in the past this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing something that is actually new on the market. What on Earth Do We Know About Heaven? is a recently published book by theologian Dr. Randal Rauser (to learn more about him you can check out his website, particularly the blog). I was able to snag a copy with the express purpose of writing about it on the blog.
The book is nonfiction and consists of 20 questions about the afterlife with a chapter to address each. It’s a useful format that allows for easy reference of different ideas and arguments. It also would theoretically allow for a reader to skip chapters or jump ahead to a question that interests them. I can’t say that I would necessarily recommend this method of reading. Though Rauser does his best to keep each chapter self contained there are important concepts that the first few chapters address that the other chapters rely heavily on. I’d recommend reading the book all the way through on your first read.
Randal’s book promotes what he refers to as a “this-world” approach to heaven, as opposed to a more generally known “other-world” approach. The general idea is that heaven will not be an otherworldly cloud filled dimension where earthly things have passed away, but rather that heaven will be this universe perfected and transformed. This is the second nonfiction book that I’ve had the pleasure of reading that is devoted to explaining and promoting the “this-world” approach. The other is Randy Alcorn’s Heaven, an excellent book that I couldn’t recommend more. Naturally I was pleased to find a book by a separate author on the same theme; on the other hand the books are very different in style.
As I read through What on Earth the first impression that struck me was that it lacked sufficient references to scripture to support its assertions. In Heaven you can hardly travel a single page without encountering blocks of reference verses neatly stacked between parenthesis: in What on Earth you can find whole chapters with only one or two. However on further reflection I realized that this was an unfair comparison. Heaven is a weighty tome that clocks at 560 pages and two pounds! When writing Heaven Alcorn wanted to create an exhaustive guide to the scriptural view of the afterlife, moving slowly and backing up every statement with argument and reference to scripture. What on Earth, on the other hand, is a slim volume of only 176 pages. It’s easy to pick up and put down and puts readability ahead of being exhaustive. The book is filled with metaphors, thought experiments, and vivid illustrations referencing everything from The Time Machine to Blockbuster Video. It’s an entirely different beast from Heaven. With that in mind I have to say that it fulfills its purpose well. It has enough references to scripture to create a good framework and builds from there. It communicates effectively with little obfuscation, something I must applaud as someone who appreciates good writing. The question is whether its ideas are as just as good.
As I was reading I experienced an odd roller coaster of opinion about the book in general. I’d read a chapter and be quite pleased with how it was put together; then I’d read another and feel that the author had stepped a bit too far. My main issue was that some of the chapters by their very nature were much more speculative than others. In one Rauser makes an argument that we will age in heaven, and then provides an example of how that might look. In another Rauser details the difficult question of what will happen to predators, and again provides a possible example of what might be. For some reason both cases left a bad taste in my mouth; yet I couldn’t say why exactly. It took me several days to realize what was happening.
When I was a child I went to a church that didn’t talk overly much about heaven. We all knew that heaven was where you wanted to go, a place of incomprehensible joy. Yet somehow much of the emphasis was placed on the world “incomprehensible.” There seemed to be an unwritten rule that heaven was to be anticipated but not speculated about. I quickly learned that if someone had questions or concerns about heaven the correct response was to say “Well I don’t know what it’s going to be like exactly, but I know it will be a million times better than the best thing here.” I’m not sure why this was. I think people were afraid of saying the wrong things about heaven in the same way that a Christian might feel cautious about saying the wrong things about God. Nobody wanted to predict about something where they were so likely to be incorrect. I can’t speak for others but I think I avoided the subject because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I didn’t want to go through life saying “I can’t wait to have X in heaven!” and then discover after death that heaven is lacking in X. Whatever the reason people didn’t speculate in general about heaven. Since then I have come to have some very concrete beliefs about what heaven will look like. I’ve learned that it’s okay to speculate, because even if you’re wrong you won’t be disappointed. If you can’t find X in heaven it’s because there’s something far better than X. Today I believe that hopeful speculation about heaven is one of the healthiest things a Christian can do. Yet I realized that the reason Rauser’s speculations left a bad taste in my mouth was because of that childhood attitude.
So what if I don’t completely agree with some of Rauser’s ideas? Instead of feeling that Rauser has failed I should take it as an opportunity to try and discover why I disagree with him, and what I believe instead. This is a book for starting discussions and getting your brain thinking about the concepts of eternity. Every chapter is an opportunity for discussion and friendly debate about heaven. Because of this I would highly recommend the book as being suitable for a small group to go over. Regardless of whether you agree with Rauser about some of the particulars it’s sure to get people talking about heaven; and we all need to talk more about heaven.
Overall I have to say that What on Earth is a well crafted little book, good for reading by yourself or with others. At the very least it will get your mental wheels turning. At most it might open you to ideas of joy and glory that you have never considered before.
When I graduated from college I expected that finding a job would be simple. Yes, the economy is still in a slump. Yes, I’m just one of thousands of college graduates with a degree in hand but no substantial experience. Yes, my ideal job would be helping to make movies which is one of the hardest industries to get into without substantial social capital (that is, knowing a guy). But I didn’t worry about all that. I had worked hard to get my degree and I knew that the perfect job would show up in short order. I trusted that God would take care of everything. All I wanted was to serve him with my work. I felt confident that he would take care of the rest, despite all the obstacles.
Instead I spent the next four months unemployed with no prospects. Application after application disappeared into the system without a word of feedback. Jobs I was extremely interested in sent polite email rejections. With each week I became a little more desperate. At first I only sent applications to TV stations and studios. Then I started applying to well paying white collar positions. Then I started applying to minimum wage jobs whose only requirement was a high school diploma. Nothing worked out. I couldn’t even get to the interview stage.
As I’ve mentioned before, I got a little downhearted.
I felt awful. I was afraid of the future. I was afraid of not being able to provide for my wife. I was afraid that one of us would get seriously ill and there would be no money or insurance to pay for treatment. I felt like I was a failure. More than that, my trust in God had been shaken a bit. I had absolute faith that God would make everything work out perfectly. It didn’t. Naturally I was confused.
I found a book that helped me. It’s called The Healing Path, by Dr. Dan Allender. The book helped me unpack what had been happening to me over these last four months. It helped me understand. I picked the book up last Friday, which was perfect timing. I had been interviewed for a position with the state government. It was a good job with good benefits and I felt like I nailed the interview. They told me that I would know if I had the position by Friday. Friday came and went without news. My hopes were crushed. I was back to square one. When I started reading my unemployment wounds had been freshly opened. Yet by the time Monday rolled around I felt at peace about not having a job. This happened because of the books simple message:
Everybody in this world will suffer, even Christians. But suffering itself is not evil.
It seems like a pretty depressing and confusing message. But it helped a great deal. Everyone will suffer to some extent. My own suffering pales in comparison to others. Yet at the same time it is real. The book affirmed my feelings. It said that it was alright to suffer. It is okay to go through trails and pain. The question is how we will react to that pain. Some people react by becoming bitter or paranoid. Others become detached from the world. For me, I reacted with a varnish of optimism covering a well of pain. I did my best to remember that God was watching out for me. That everything would turn out okay. The book reminded me that often times things go from bad to worse. Great Christians who were far closer to God than myself have lived lives of one tragedy happening after another. I have no guarantee that I will find a job. I have no guarantees that I will not suffer from cancer, that my children wont die at a young age, or that I will die peacefully in my sleep. The only guarantee I have is that everything will come out right in the very end, after death, and that God will not abandon me in my suffering. He will be there. He has many things to teach me that can only be learned through pain. Will I accept those teachings? Or will I let suffering turn me bitter?
When I was young I heard a story with a particular message. The moral was that we should thank God not only for the beauty of the rose but for it’s thorns as well; that we should thank God for bad times just as we thank him for good ones. I never accepted this teaching. How can we thank God for bad things? I can understand accepting bad things. I can understand living with them and learning from them. But I struggled with understanding how I can thank God for bad things. I still struggle with it. But I’m starting to understand.
God is very strange sometimes. Just as I became at peace about my unemployment I got a call. It was from the state, and they were offering me the job. I accepted. Today is my first day! I’m so happy and excited. Yet as I thanked God for his provision I had something else to say to him. “Lord…some really awful things are going to happen in my life, aren’t they? I’ll have to see my parents die. My brothers will die. My wife will die. My children might die, or suffer, or turn away from you. People will get sick. I will be in pain. I will suffer.” I contemplated my words for a moment. In the end all I could say is “But you’ll be with me, wont you? And someday you’ll wipe away all of my tears. I can count on that.”
I still trust that God has a plan for me. I no longer trust that I have any idea of what that plan might look like.