Rest

A friend of mine who was a very gifted singer and musician passed away quite suddenly a day ago in a motorcycle accident. This poem is for him.

Though the melody stops suddenly,
Brought a grief to me,
The only way to rejoin the song
Is to count the measures of rest.
Against God, who will protest?
The Singer of all right will not sing wrong.
Those who would find harmony
Must bow their knee;
No suspension remains unresolved.
Although our own resolve might fail
Our voices weak, and bruised reeds be frail,
A tear is not a sin, and grief’s absolved.

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Psalm 148: A Free Verse Rendering

This is a free verse rendering of Psalm 148 I wrote for a poetry class in college. This one needs work, and it’s been called overdone. I present this unfinished version to you all for feedback and criticism. Please comment with thoughts, first impressions, or suggestions.

Praise the Lord from the heavens
Be cosmic bread, leaven of glory,
All seven spheres tune ears to hear what the moon and sun
Have begun to sing in the star-deep sea of the sky.
Let firmaments, assured of enduring,
Remember the commands and decrees
Of the Lord who ceded them their high boundary.
And then tip-top over, to the downward plunge,
Back to the sea, that roaring mirror of the skies;
Leviathan, still unhooked, bows his heads with their fiery eyes; Continue reading

The Economy of Learning, Part 3: A Log on a Deep and Mighty Tide of Incompetence

Any discussion of economics and education would be incomplete without Scripture to back up our thoughts and intuitions. All of Proverbs is written from a father to a son, delivering the wisdom necessary to live a godly, prosperous, long life. “Train up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” According to Scripture, it is the responsibility of the parent to educate their children. They are to be ready to answer children’s questions (Ex. 12:26, Josh. 4:6-7). Primarily, our children must be taught the fear of the Lord, as evidenced in love and obedience. Or, as Dewey would crudely put it, a “system of morality.” But listen to what Dewey subsitutes for “traditional” morality. “All education which develops power to share effectively in social life is moral.” Recall that social life, although the standard for education, is itself ultimately rootless in its walk “up the future’s endless stair/…Groping, guessing, yet progressing,/ lead us nobody knows where,” as Lewis had it. Other stanzas of the poem are remarkably applicable. In the last examination, Dewey makes education an end unto itself: “…there is nothing to which education is subordinate save more education….the purpose of school education is to insure the continuance of education by organizing the powers that insure growth.” In other words, what we desire is a cancer. Unrestrained growth for its own sake is both rootless, and still deadly in its own inevitable collapse. Dewey sees clearly that education will touch the moral side of a child, shape his character, and even affect his mental disposition and desires. Again, I don’t argue the inevitability of this happening. What I do argue is that when this power of education is surrendered to a decentralized, fascistic state, it will inevitably be both abused by the majority and broken by socialistic egalitarianism.

What does this mean for parents who find themselves unable, insufficiently prepared, or too time-restricted to teach their children? It is then their duty to find themselves some representative who will stand in their stead and deliver a good education to their child. This representative is a teacher. A parent will of course want to hand their child over to someone they trust absolutely to be a good influence on their children: a teacher whose goals are in line with their own. Now, given the sheer volume of diverse goals that parents have for their children (and taking into account the inevitable overlap of basic skills such as reading and writing), is it likely that any one school will match every parent’s desired academic emphases for their children? Not in the least. Thus, a diverse array of schools, teachers, and curricula are necessary to satisfy the public need for education.

But when we flip the picture to see it from the liberal standpoint, we find the teacher is a representative of society. When he is a representative of the individual leaders of families, then it becomes a capitalistic education system, where the individuality and identity of groups within society is maintained, and where the best educators last. Education would no longer be a funnel for public opinion regardless of the individual’s beliefs. But in a socialist state, and the inevitable move towards fascism, education has a duty to fit the child into society, whatever that society is. Dewey worships society by making it the ultimate standard: public education is the bangle on the idol’s wrist. They stand and fall together. From this connection we find ourselves in the schools today teaching against and preventing obesity, teaching our children how the sexual revolution was a good thing, how all religions and cultures are equal (except Christianity and Western culture), and how the world was populated by the savage and beneficent goddess of Evolution. These are not optional: given a view of education where the teacher is a finger of society, preaching the latest fad-gospel is good, righteous, and required. Freedom, as it exists in an independent system of capitalistic education, cannot exist in public education. Dewey’s well-placed and ironic fears have come true.

But not everyone will buy a product completely blind. So how does the Federal government sell their trinket? First, the federal government, since the “No Child Left Behind Act,” has involved itself in setting standards for education that receives funding. The standards have not worked, for they float along with the capabilities of the students like a log on a deep and mighty tide of incompetence. This only makes sense when we take into account that most parents do not necessarily know what it is best for their children to learn, or even have their own goals for their child’s education. We then end up with teachers and schools themselves avowing the benefits of their programs and curricula. But their avowals to the efficacy of their programs depends entirely on their goals for the program, since good intentions cover all. “If we’re teaching the right things and we mean well, then performance matters little,” they think. Our society god accepts our efforts to throw the pinch of incense, however much we stumble. But even the public school system seems to be lacking the power to fulfil their own goals. According to current reviews, America is either at or below the national average in most subjects. Given that our education spending is larger than many countries’ GDP, the results are not worth the spending.

In a capitalistic society, (the only true support for diversity and a heterodonic [a word I made to mean “many-giftedness,” based on 1 Cor. 12] society), we will develop not only better education, but diverse education suited to the desires, capabilities, and opportunities of the individual. On the other hand, a socialist or democratic society, without an ultimate authority, will deliver a stagnant, fruitless education, guaranteed to badly disappoint the needs of most students. It neither fulfils the duties of a suitable representative of Christian parents, nor understands a family-based society. In most of the important ways I can think of, public education, as it has come to look since the early twentieth century, is simply a broken, doomed idea.

Communion

In the red hymnal, angled sideways on the stacking grey chair,
There were crumbs from last week’s communion.
I look at them.
I think they are the leftovers that filled twelve disciple’s baskets,
Wandered down from Galilee to this small Washington town.
This is the heavenmade bread that will last forever,
Handed down in the hymnal from the greying to the young,
And when we open to page 204,
There is the life-bread of our fathers,
Brown and crusty.
I plant another crumb-crop.

Economics, Free Market, and Christ

Here’s a series of questions, challenges, and responses about a free market. It started on Facebook, but went to a blog and carried on.

Matt Petersen –
“Carson Spratt and I started having a discussion on a third friend’s facebook wall. I didn’t want to hijack the thread, so I’m bringing the conversation over here.

In response to my claim that “free markets” are not necessarily any more “free” than “free love is”, and so the syllogism “free men therefore free markets” is no more valid than the syllogism “free men, therefore free love”:

“Now you’re equivocating on “free.””

Since I’m not defining “free”, but asking for a definition of a “free market”, I am not equivocating. If “free market” means “Markets freed by the freedom of Christ”, it is not obvious that so called free markets are in fact free markets, and we would need to argue that free markets means free markets in the common sense. On the other hand, Continue reading

A Time for Growing

(This is a revised version of the previous story “Potato.”)

The funeral was tomorrow, and Brendan wasn’t working on his eulogy. He was digging for potatoes in the garden.

The work-polished handle of the spade comforted his hands. The smell of damp and freshly turned soil comforted his nose. The steady, rhythmic “chink, chink” of the spade biting into the earth rubbed away the roughness of his thoughts. Everything always became clear if he worked in the garden long enough. It had to. He had been there since morning, and the late fall afternoon tree-shadows were starting to stretch their way across the lawn. For all his work, he had only a single crate-full of potatoes. They were brown potatoes, simple and rough. Like Brendan. Stab ground, foot down, turn over earth. It was an easy motion, and it was hard to keep his thoughts on it. He desperately wanted to avoid letting his thoughts think about anything else. Because if he thought about anything else, he would think about Lynn.

His sister’s daughter Lynn had been staying with him and Mary for two weeks. Her mother Janice had left after a few hurried greetings that bumped into the back of the goodbyes. She had stood on the doorstep, a pale, nervous-looking teenager, bangs down over her eyes. She was wearing a hoodie, hands curled up inside the sleeves as if she was cold. “We’re so glad you could come for a visit!” Mary exclaimed, wrapping her in a warm, full hug while Lynn just stood there. Later that night in the living room, he and Mary had talked about her.

“She’s so cold,” Mary said. “And quiet. And skinny too, for all that. At least we can feed her properly while she’s here.” She looked over at Brendan, waiting for him to speak. It usually took a few sentences of conversational priming before he would say anything. “I don’t know why Janice wanted her to visit so suddenly. How many letters have we had at Christmases over the years? Two? Three? Not even signed. Of course, I didn’t really expect her to write us after she married that welder and ran off to Seattle.” She glanced over at Brendan again, still rocking back and forth in his chair while the clicking of her knitting needles marked the seconds. Finally, he spoke. “Something’s not right. Janice wouldn’t just drop her off like that if everything was alright. It wouldn’t be right to pry into the girl’s life, though. Not when she’s all alone like this. She barely knows us. We’ll just leave her be. Not ignore her, just be there to talk if she wants to.” Mary nodded over the nearly complete baby blanket: it was the only thing to do. Keep on as normal and hope Lynn opened up.

She didn’t open up. She walked around the house the first day, looking for the TV, and went outside, stalking bars with her iPhone. Apart from a few sentences over meals, she was silent. She spent most of her time away from Mary and Brendan, either hunched over her phone in a chair, or staring listlessly out the window at the golden grain-rich hills. Brendan was worried. Most children her age would have been more friendly, even if only from loneliness. At church on Sunday, her lips barely moved over the words of the hymns, as she glanced around to make sure no one was looking at her. She was confused over the communion, and Brendan had to show her what to do: apparently her church at home had given up the practice.

The thoughts came closer. Yesterday. He was at the kitchen window, peeling carrots into a stainless-steel sink. She was going home tomorrow, and Brendan was making a last big farmhouse dinner to see her off. He glanced through the window towards the small pond and the grey dock. Lynn was sitting on the end of the dock, hunched over faced away from the house. She was probably listening to her iPod. He went back to peeling carrots.

He looked out the window again. Why was Lynn swimming in the pond? With all her clothes? She was thrashing around, splashing, too uncontrolled for swimming, it was more like… His legs flooded with adrenaline, and he picked up speed through the kitchen, through the back door, no shoes, deck and dry grass, and the thrashing was weaker already, not as much water splashing, but then he charged into the water moving full speed, and then a lunging, wading rush that churned the water into eddying, spinning whirlpools as he surged and strained forward and then he grabbed one flailing arm. There was no control: she couldn’t grab onto him. Her eyes were rolling back under her wide-open eyelids. He half-carried, half-towed the jerking girl to the bank. Then she stopped jerking.

“Lynn? Lynn!” He slapped her face, rolled her onto her side. The foam from her lips dripped onto the dark, clayey soil. She wasn’t breathing. He saw her arm where the sleeve had come back, and saw a row of needle-marks. He decided to risk it, and turned her onto her back. He grabbed her jaw, pinched her nose, and put his lips to her cold, slimy mouth. There was a sour taste of bile and vomit. He blew hard, then released the pinch and placed his rough hands on her skinny, water-logged chest. He could feel her ribs flex as he pumped one, two, three, four, five, six, plunging like a potato spade, down, down, down. Back to the cold mouth with another lungful of air. He forced his breath into her, harder this time, trying to force his life into her. One, two, three, four, five, six. Breath, and now his tears were falling with the chest compressions. He felt her ribs crack under his weight. One, two, three, snap, five, six. Choke in another breath, give it to her, gasp for life again, this time for sure, one, two, three, four, five, six. She wasn’t dead, of course, because she was young, she had only been in the pond a minute, she was a good kid. One, two, three, four, five, six. One, two. One.

And then death had him with all of its wrongness. He closed her eyes gently with those rough fingers of his, so that she wouldn’t see him cry.

Mary found him that way in the dark, long after the bruised sun had set behind the rolling wheat-fields, rocking back and forth. He was thinking about his sister.

*****

The funeral was tomorrow, and Brendan was digging potatoes up out of the ground, stealing life from the earth. Today he took a potato from the ground, and tomorrow they gave the ground a body. His mind revolted at the comparison, and he snorted with anger at himself. He stabbed at the ground with his spade. His thoughts swirled around him like ash over a burnt field. Janice blamed him. She had arrived the day before, her face grey with grief and anger. Condolences were said, full of phrases, meaning nothing. His feeble words floated over his own grief like water-striders, unable to break the surface. He had endured her silence, and then fled to his garden again. The potato crate was full, and he picked it up, eyes on his own thoughts. He walked and found himself with sudden confusion standing over the pond on the dock. He set the box down slowly, and then straightened. He held a potato in his hand. He stared at its brown solidness, felt its rough, leathery skin. His anger struck, a slow storm over a prairie. He threw the potato at the water. The still mirror shattered into droplets and waves, splashing onto his boots. Ripples echoed over the surface. He threw another, then another, and another, again, one, two, three, four, five, six. They sank to the mud on the bottom, burying themselves under the thick silt, invisible. He stopped just as suddenly as he started. He was breathing hard and his eyebrows were knotted over his grey, wet eyes. He heard a footstep beside him on the dock and turned to meet the sound.

It was Janice. She was crying. Her mascara had run, and her jacket sleeves were pulled up over her hands, her stiff arms folded tightly over her stomach. Dry spasmodic sobs shook her as she fought for control. “It wasn’t you,” she said. “I knew Lynn had a drug problem. I’ve known it for a while now. And I thought, I thought if I could get her away from Seattle, away from those people for a while, it would just go away. I didn’t think…I didn’t mean…” She broke, and Brendan stepped to her, and her arms were suddenly around him. He held her, quiet and still, like someone who won’t let go for a long time. He rocked her back and forth while her tears soaked through his shirt onto his shoulder. Then after a while they went in the house, and the house lights stayed on like a little sun in the night while they talked together. The funeral came, as funerals always do. The grave was dug, and Lynn was sown in the earth, sown like a farmer’s seed. Janice went home the next day, with promises to return. Brendan and Mary watched her grey car pull out of the gravel driveway, and waved as she disappeared around the first curve of the hill. The autumn drifted away into a winter, a good winter, one with reunions and gifts and family, and then the snows ran away with the grey skies and spring came and the pond finally melted. The farm stirred to life, while the tractors turned the cold earth into good fields. Brendan waited patiently for the potatoes to sprout in the garden. There was other work to do. Their time would come.

Glory Too Fast

Here is a recording I came across yesterday.
Listening to it was one of the few things that have left me speechless in my life.

Once you have listened to a few minutes of it, allow me to explain why I was speechless.
The modern paradigm of evolution has, by and large, attempted to rob us of any concept of objective beauty. If the world and all that is in it is not in some way a guided thing, if it developed on its own, then one would expect to see many fundamental, deep, and unsurpassable divides between species. There would be a fundamental incompatibility between the multitude of branching paths,just like technology of different generations.

This proves it wrong.

The crickets are singing in several octaves, but the scale they are using is the exact (and I mean perfectly) same eight-tone scale that Bach, Beethoven, Schutz, Mozart, Handel, Praetorius, Josquin de Prez, and any other classic composer used. Apart from accidentals (halfway points between pitches) the crickets are using our good old, Sound of Music do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. It is a musical system of harmonic sounds that function together naturally: the world of sound is built so that these sounds actually belong together and work, just as certainly as a biochemical reaction or gravity. It’s built into the world.

How is this overlap between crickets and humans even possible? It’s a sound too fast for our ears to hear. It wasn’t our sound. Why should we expect to find it appealing, on an evolutionary framework? There’s simply no way for it to benefit us, or for us even to be aware of its existence.

But when we find it, it is like finding a painting on a rock in the middle of a forest. Someone left it there. It was supposed to be beautiful, and it was placed there intentionally, for us to find. Pure gift. It is as astonishing as the footprint in the sand was to Robinson Crusoe. We thought we were alone, and look: someone has been here the whole time.

Not only this, but the way it was found implies an even more organic connection between crickets and humans. Not only does the sound sound beautiful to both, but it becomes beautiful to us only when adjusted to match our lifespan. We didn’t just slow it down until it sounded good: there was a mathematical operation that occurred and it resulted in beauty. In logical form, it looks like this: [cricket music:cricket lifespan :: Human lifespan: ???]. There is a fundamental proportionality here, a concept that resonates far more with a medieval perspective on life than with our modern one. For the medievals, the world was structured according to proportions, mathematical regularity, and the world was a dance. The planetary spheres made music to the Lord. Everything was organized and that organization produced beauty and music. For them, these crickets would fit right in. For us, it is a sledgehammer to the brittle concrete of skepticism and reductionistic materialism. Both crickets and humans were made by the same God, a God who is beautiful. And that is why the crickets sound like choirs. Because they know to sing God’s praise. It was glory too fast for us, but we caught up. Our ears are tuned now a little better to hear those praises, and we must, if we value our humanity, learn to join in.

Listen.
And sing.