Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ender Wiggins' Slander

I just finished a book by the Mormon writer Orson Scott Card, "Children Of The Mind." There's a rather memorable line in the book where Ender Wiggins, the book's protagonist, says, "I'm not a Christian. I don't pay for my sins, I learn from them."

I really liked that line. Coming from Mr. Card's Mormonism, it gave me a look at the world from a perspective not my own within Christianity. I love to look at what I know from different perspectives and understand what the outsider perceives.

"I... learn from my sins." Each of our sins are truly evidence of our need to learn. It is a very good thing to learn from one's sins. Technically, learning changes the mind. And I've always learned that the Greek word for "change your mind" is metanoia, and that metanoia is the Greek word in the Bible translated "repent." When you see the guy in a sandwich board that says, "Repent," the word means, "Change your mind." Thus, Mr. Card's character Ender is voicing the fact that there's a sense in which he repents of his sins. This is an idea at the core of what it means to be a Christian.

I've come to think that Christianity's Gospel has been hijacked with some odd, unscriptural accretions. This business of asking deity, Jesus, to enter one's heart, a pump for blood, never made sense to me. Same goes for "accepting Christ." What exactly does it mean to "accept" deity? These accretions hide what I believe to be the true Gospel: there is Mercy in Christ. Repent and believe to obtain it. Repent and believe. Repent. Change your mind.

Repent of my sins? Change my mind about my sins. Learn from my sins. These are awefully similar if not the same things. So, I'm all with Mr. Card and Ender, by all means learn from your sins for judgment is at hand.

This is not Ender Wiggins' slander.

Instead, he said, "I don't pay for my sins..." before he said he learned from them. Where and how could he get the idea that sins have to be paid for? Rhetorical question. We all carry within us the sense of Justice as image bearers of God. Justice demands that evil be punished. The lady with the blindfold holds scales. The scales of justice must be balanced. Christianity, and Judaism, and I presume Mormonism all assert the necessity for justice.

What Ender Wiggins gets wrong is that he thinks that sins are paid for by the sinner. Or that Christianity teaches that sins are paid for by the sinner. A bit of careful thought by Mr. Card would quickly disabuse him of this notion, for surely he's seen the central symbol of Christianity, the Cross of Christ. The Christian who is truly a Christian never pays for his sins and never thinks that he can and never thinks that he does. The Christian believes Christ does the paying, and that belief is counted for Righteousness. With that out of the way, the Christian can get about the business of learning from his sins.

So, how is it that Mr. Card knows about the Cross, even superficially, yet has Ender Wiggins claim that Christians "pay for" but not "learn from" sins. I think it's the Roman Catholic notion of penance. The Christian, even the Roman Christian, never pays for his sins. But the Roman Catholic often pays a penance. Penance is a mixed thing. When I've offended someone and seek reconciliation of the relationship, a peace offering helps restart the dialog. I'm not Catholic but I've occasionally been assigned a penance by my Catholic friends. And when I've not really been repentant about doing something that I thought right, but my boss would think wrong, I've asked what penance he'd like now that I'd given him a fait accompli.

This notion of penance gives the wrong impression to outsiders. And as you can see it can also serve as a substitute for repentance. And the penance can serve as an occasion for Simony (the attempt to buy grace for money named after Simon the sorcerer rebuked by Peter in Acts). The worst abuse of the penance in history served as the spark that lit the fires of the Reformation, specifically the sale of indulgences. "Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt, Die Seel' aus dem Fegfeuer springt" As the gold in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.

I think this is why Mr. Card put slander about Christianity in the mouth of Ender Wiggins. I think the ease with which the doctrine of penance is misunderstood both within and without The Church strongly argues against Romanism. My own Reformed thinking insists that grace is free. Grace is free.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Seasonal Affective Disorder

These days around the winter solstice are short and gray. Thankfully, they're not as cold as they might be. I am thankful for global warming and wouldn't mind some more of it. But the dim light that filters through the clouds for the few hours of daylight leaves me a little bit out of sorts.

Last Saturday I had to do some work at the apartments. I own a coin-operated dryer. I tried to adjust the control unit to give my tenants more time for their money. Instead, I halved the time. I'm a better capitalist than I tried to be. Thus, last Saturday I gave the dryer another try. I don't quite understand the process, so I would try something then wait to see how long the timer would stay on. I took a lawn chair and a good light and a book. If I succeeded on the first try, I'd be gone an hour. Instead I would try something and read for a half-hour or so, then try something else. I never quite figured things out, so I was gone a long time Saturday night.

I read and enjoyed the solitude. Mostly, I enjoyed the light. The dryer is in the basement and the basement is not "a clean well-lighted place." So, along with the book and lawn chair, I packed a drywall light to take care of the "well-lighted" part.

If you don't know what a drywall light is, and you live in Michigan, you're in trouble. When days are short, I don't get enough light. I either have to jet south to Florida, or I need a drywall light. It's a stand with two 500 watt halogen lights attached. They get smoking hot and you'll burn yourself if you touch one. They also make a darkened basement as bright as a sunwashed tropical beach.

...just a second...

They also have the same effect on my family room where I'm typing now. Every winter when I start getting feeling grumpy and ticked off at everyone, I pull out the drywall light and set it up in the family room. It isn't something you'll see in Good Housekeeping or any home design magazine. But if you sit next to a drywall light for a few hours, you'll forget how short and how gray the winter days are.

They say that the post-holidays season is hard and that people get all depressed at this time of year. I don't think it's because the days are post-holidays, instead, I think it's because the days are so gray and short. I recommend a drywall light. You can find one at any big-box home improvement store. I googled up this , but if you're feeling ornery, just goto Menards or Lowes or Builders' Square. It will cost less than a shrink or a tropical vacation.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Emperor's New Haircut

I'm a geek who writes. I've also been a voracious reader for all my life. In high school my dad bought a collection of O Henry short stories that I absolutely loved. I also took lit classes in high school and this was my first exposure to Ernest Hemingway. I would read Hemingway stories and think "what's the point?" I figured contemporary literature was much like the emperor's new clothes.

This is why I became a geek. Later in college I took Contemporary Literature and I had minored in philosophy. My opinion of contemporary literature changed somewhat. I figured (accurately) that I could always bamboozle any lit prof by just putting in existentialist philosophy.

A few years ago I started writing and I wanted to write well. So, I started reading contemporary literature again. This included a revisit to Ernest Hemingway and other stories that I'd put down and think "what's the point?" This time I noticed something different. There still wasn't any point to the stories, but I was middle-aged and I had done some living. These "pointless" stories were able to convey something about life and something about human nature.

Mary and I were discussing this on our walk. She mentioned that it's sort of stupid to teach this stuff in high school to kids who haven't lived enough to recognize the truth of such character-driven stories. I agreed. I still think the emperor has no clothes.

All the fuss and bother about Hemingway is indeed the fuss about the Emperor's new clothes. The thing about contemporary literature is indeed much ado about nothing. The Emperor is naked. But he does have a new haircut.

If you're a geek who writes, the way to bamboozle the English majors who happen to be Editors is to make sure you know howto cut hair.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Performance Review

I figure one of the higher-ups set the "objectives for 2006" for his subordinates (my bosses) that include a line item "100% of subordinates shall receive performance reviews," because suddenly everybody made time for performance reviews for everyone in the department. Typical corporate foolishness that if you're not careful will increase your cynicism. Happily, my own cynicism was successfully hidden from view during my recent performance review, because it was never mentioned.

I find that bosses in performance reviews tend to have different approaches. Some, who've read The Minute Manager look for a way to "catch you doing something right." Others tend to look for some imperfection to try to "improve you." I have two different agendas during a performance review. One agenda is to identify what I can do better than anyone else and then do more of it. The other agenda is to identify what I'm failing worst at and then... AND THEN WHAT?

There's two ways to deal with what I'm failing worst at. 1) figure out "how" I'm goofing up and conquer that weakness. 2) figure out how to avoid doing what I'm weak at and do that less.

This is a subtle point that's missed by too many people. If I'm good at X and I'm bad at Y, then I might work at getting better at Y. ME, I'll charge ahead and try to figure out howto get better at Y. This is stupid. Smarter of me is to figure out how to ditch Y, opening up more time to do more X.

But first you have to know what is X and what is Y. You have to know at what you suck. At lunch today we were talking about the Japanese and German attitudes during WW2. It's common to believe they thought they were the ubermen much better than anyone else. Superiority was their birthright. It wasn't, but they thought so. I like to say that "Germans make no small mistakes." You have to acknowledge the possibility that you're ignorant or wrong to have any hope of learning or correcting yourself. If I believe I'm inherently superior in every respect, I'll deny the existence of any weakness in myself. I won't know what's Y unless I can get a clue.

The person who is least likely to learn is someone who thinks he knows everything. The Pharisees could never be forgiven because they denied they'd ever done anything wrong. This idea generalizes. In my performance review, I had my bosses tell me where I'm strong and where I'm weak.

I've got to listen carefully to hear what I don't want to hear. It's human nature to hear bad news and then spend whatever energy it takes to explain it away. When I was a Deacon at Trinity, folks would leave the church, when they'd leave sometimes they'd write a letter explaining themselves. I was always annoyed when the Deacon board would talk and talk until we'd explain it away and make no effective changes addressing the reasons cited.

This brings to mind the Bible passage that Louis is going through at Blythefield right now:

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

I figure the anti-pattern I saw in the Deacons' meeting was finding a way to behold our failures and then finding a way to go our way and forget what we'd just heard. This may not be fair, but it seemed that way at the time.

There are some specifics of this passage that I want to point out. I think that the metaphorical glass or mirror of this passage is the law. The next verses speak of the perfect law of liberty. And elsewhere we see that the Apostles taught that God's law serves the role of a mirror, showing us our faces are dirty.

In a business setting, if you find you're weak at Y, you should merely avoid doing Y. In a personal, moral, setting, if you find your face is "dirty" at some point of the law, you should endeavour to avoid more lawbreaking in the future and use the "soap" of grace to clean your guilt.

I almost didn't paste in that last verse. Everything I've said above is supported without it. But it's right there and I think I can take a personal application from it. I think of what I've written and said. I suppose somethings I write well, those are my Xs. And some things I write poorly, those are my Ys. That's what I sat down to express in this little note.

But then I took a delivery from the clue train. I try to make the habit of asking the unwanted question of "am I guilty of this?" And that last verse speaks of bridling one's tongue. Ah yes, I see. I owe some people an apology for speaking harshly and unknindly. I wonder if I'm going to do anything about that...