I’ve swung back-and-forth quite a bit during this pandemic. The two ends would best be characterized by denial and anxiety. Today something new is bubbling up. I’m beginning to feel like I’ve been bamboozled.
It started as I considered this notion of “essential”. Actually, it started by reading what exactly was “essential” according to the government, and seeing how markedly it differed from my previous understanding of the word.
Now, it continues to build as I focus on how this is exactly how a socialist economic system works: Central planning. In other words, someone, not me, decides what I believe is essential.
Before the pandemic, Americans were doing just fine determining what was essential for their life. If we made a lot of money, we couldn’t live without extravagance. If we didn’t make any money, we survived by driving for Uber.
We were never satisfied with our fancy cars and ever changing diets, or we were eternally grateful to be able to make more money at will.
Now, the government is both feeding us the horrifying information about the disease and determining which parts of our lives are essential. This is a problem.
More pointedly, I just want to repeat that Major League Baseball is essential to summer.
Hey, You! Sleepy-head! Wake up! What is essential to you?
This post is tricky for two reasons. Firstly, the child I’ve been observing could someday read it. Secondly, while it’s true that you’re reading this, I’m not sure you’re ‘literate’.
To cancel out any negative repercussions possible within the first reason, I want to clarify that my intentions are to simply record an observation that is interesting to me. There’s no judgement here. You didn’t cause yourself to be illiterate.
Regarding the second reason, I consider literacy to include the actual ability to imagine that you’re someone else. Literacy is not about lofting the sounds of symbols into the air. It is about understanding the author’s written ideas, their point-of-view, inasmuch as they can be understood by a reasonable person.
Quickly, then, the word of the day is “mimic”. That’s the best way I can think to capture the process. I have now watched for many months a unique-to-me case of an illiterate child growing up. They look just like us. Dress like us. Eat the same food. Drink the same beverages. But when it comes to talking, they exhibit a totally different pattern. Without having been read to in the womb, without having been read to as an infant, without having been read to as a toddler, without having begun to read in kindergarten, without having been reading on their own for the next three years, the illiterate child can only mimic sounds.
Think bird calls or mating calls–nature style.
I suppose in the pre-television/pre-entertainment-on-demand days this might have been an acceptable path to wisdom. But in our day, what this can mean is the child picks the reaction they like best–say laughter–and then begins to mimic or simply repeat the words which the characters uttered which preceded the laughter. Again, think about how a young animal might learn to imitate its parent’s audible warning or mating calls.
The important, and new-to-me, thing that I want to draw attention to is the lack of thinking. At the illiterate level, the child makes noises to obtain desired responses. Maybe crying for food, age-inappropriate jokes for laughter, coughing for a hug, gulping loudly for encouragement–all things that would be missed by a deaf parent.
Even more to the point, the illiterate child can start to use words instead of sounds, but–and don’t miss this–to the child the words are still merely sounds. They are empty words. If another set of words accomplished the desired goal, the illiterate child would use those. For the illiterate child, achieving the desired response is the only thing that matters.
Put inversely, coherence has no place. Truth has no place. Consistency has no place. Particulars have no place.
Again, for the illiterate child, achieving the desired response is the only thing that matters.
There is a flip-side, too. If I’m right, it means that for the literate there is something more in life.
My most recent pastor loves to commend believing in the Bible even when you don’t understand it. (Most recently, this was communicated in response to Old Testament saints’ polygamy.)
My father wants to write a book about the value of dreaming–not during sleep, but the kind of dreaming where you let your mind just freely choose a desirable future, no matter how likely, and then enjoy the accompanying sensation for as long as you can–even if it that future never comes true.
My wife is woefully unaware of Western Civilization’s most recent two and a half millennia of history, and simultaneously is one of the most happy and hopeful people I know.
My best friend, who is the most principled, and therefore inspiring, person I know, wonders if the coronavirus coverage and government and extra-government response is actually a strategic, coordinated, and intentional effort by those who oppose President Trump to prevent him from winning reelection.
Put another way, I think it’s time to escape for a bit. Will you join me?
I like to escape by focusing as hard as I can on something, anything that catches my attention. No more keyboard. No more blog. No more computer. No more news. No more family. No more house. No more job. No more planet. No more universe. Just me and the idea.
Today’s idea is making a vow.
The vehicle which delivered this idea to me is the passage in Judges where one Judge, Jephthah, vows to the LORD to sacrifice as a burnt offering that which comes out of his home upon his victorious arrival–if only the LORD will grant him certain victory. If you’re unfamiliar, his only daughter is “that which” comes out and he sacrifices her, with her encouragement.
I can imagine that some people would point to this story as reason to question scripture’s status as “worthy of study”. To them I would offer this reminder, “Jesus saved my soul. Jesus commended scripture. I’m sticking with Jesus.”
I can imagine that others would draw some ridiculous and irrelevant points about “vowing” and different “covenants” or more simply, “That was then, this is now–there is no need to dwell.”
Then, I can remember that at the end of a recent translation of Homer’s Iliad, or some other ancient classic, the critic commends it for containing characters who behave so inexplicably and unpredictably. In other words, the critic lauded the story for its messiness. The critic, I think, loved the story because it made the reader think, “Hmm. What would I do?” or “Hmm. Would I do the same thing? Have I done the same thing?”
Vowing is an interesting enterprise as it essentially brings into focus our integrity as individuals. Within “vowing” the group, the community, disappears.
In the account recorded in Judges, the situation’s tragedy is compounded by the daughter’s urging her father to keep his vow, his integrity–even though it would mean that she dies because of it.
Keep in mind that these people don’t know Jesus. There is no “personal relationship”. It’s back in ancient history and it’s over in a part of the world when what we call “theocracies” were at least normal, if not the norm. Also, keep in mind literacy rates in bible times and the chance that the daughter knew anything about Yahweh, other than he was her father’s god and some rote memorization of the most memorable laws, would be very difficult to defend. In other words, I think we could insert any other deity’s name and the story would present the same.
Despite all these words, I can’t untangle myself from the two questions, “Why make the vow?” and “Why fulfill the vow?”
Integrity. That’s why.
Okay. Escape over.
It was okay. But I got an email from H-‘s school district about COVID-19 during the attempt. Remind me to close that tab next escape-attempt.
The email contains a link to a “comic” on NPR’s website to use to help kids stay stress free. Pictographs? Really? We’re going to survive the pandemic because someone drew pictures?
What should schools do right now? The same thing they should always do, the same thing which they never do. Pack any children you can see into buildings and teach the kids how to read words. Make it clear that we expect everyone of any age to always fight through any sickness. Keep the posture that because of literacy, if you get sick in America, you don’t die. But most importantly, teach the kids how to read words. Teach the kids how to read words. Teach the kids how to read words.
We don’t need stress-free kids. We need literate adults.
And I just received another email.
I’m over it.
Two emails in less than one hour and four minutes counts as hysteria. This is embarrassing. Every single teacher and administrator involved in public schools should be embarrassed and ashamed for furthering this hysteria.
The New York Times recently published the diary entry of one Yale Professor Extraordinaire, Dr. Claudia Rankine. The title: “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.”
Read it for yourself (if you’ve enough free articles remaining) here.
Or, if you’re short on time, and, like me, really don’t care what other people of any community think (I mean ‘ambivalence’ in the most noble way, of course), here’s the summary: Through many displays of academic prowess and charming intellectual honesty, Professor Rankine adroitly conveys earnestness. She really is curious. (Mind you, her judgement–and sentence–have already been pronounced.) But she really, really wants to learn. And so, what does she learn? She learns that White Men are aloof about their White Privilege.
Most of you know that I was an officer and pilot in the United States Air Force. As my uncle, himself a retired sailor, opined regarding my desire to join the Air Force as a pilot, “You will walk on water.” He was right. We pilots walked on water. (Incidentally, I’ve been tightening-up my understanding of the sky, and there is one very concrete sense in which we pilots do tread on water.)
That is to say, I believe this Jesus-like trait of mine is evidence that Professor Rankine would happily include me in her research sample.
Why did I read her piece if I really didn’t care what she thought? Well, I like to be a good communicator. I like to make people laugh. I like to be approachable. Mostly, I like to talk.
So I reasoned that maybe there are other “Claudia’s” living in fear of big, bad Pete. Maybe they are snooping around, cowering just out-of-sight. Maybe they are just waiting to pick up some cue that I won’t mind chatting about my not-just-internal narrative of White Privilege. I thought that maybe I could learn that if I wear the right clothing, or have the right glasses, or smile, or don’t smile, or stare, or never make eye-contact, or tap her on the shoulder as I cut in line, or have the right book out, maybe, just maybe, she’ll become courageous and chat me up.
But then, no. That’s not how fear works. Fear breathes; but it inhales only the decayed air of windowless rooms. Fear sees; but it is blinded by light. Fear feeds; but it consumes only lies. Fear is curious; but it never learns.
And so, sad as it may seem, I will be left unmolested. Because I am not afraid. But you, Professor Doctor, are.
(But you shouldn’t be! Just talk to me.)
(But watch out!)
It was the fall of two years ago, putting me shortly after my thirty-sixth birthday. I was in the midst of some men who were mostly fifty plus years old.
The particular interrogator I faced carried his ninety-seven years venerably. He was respected by all, by which I mean all jumped at the opportunity to serve him–even the seventy year olds who were twenty years his junior. Most often, if the short time I spent with him indicated anything, the service rendered was simply bringing a blanket to keep away the cold.
His topic of inquiry: Origins. Beginnings. Genesis.
He asked me because he had heard me say that I studied such things.
I didn’t know what to say.
Reader, don’t misunderstand me. I had my answer at the ready. Yet I was quieted by the emotional aspect of the stated query. This elder is about to meet his maker. Possibly that weekend. And he’s not only respecting me enough to see what I’ll say (though I have always suspected he’d cast a fool’s line), he’s maintaining his tight grip on the joy of investigation.
The content of his question eludes my memory, but it was something to do with the peoples of earth that the Bible characters met and from where they spawned. I told him, “I don’t know.” But I went on to tell him, “No one knows. Moses didn’t tell us. And we should be very careful when listening to someone who makes a claim otherwise.”
Today I will add that this, as with Paul’s comments on another profound topic within Beginnings talk, “This mystery is great.”
I couldn’t tell if he approved–of either my answer or me.
My reason for sharing this experience here is to give a glimpse into what I think is one of life’s pleasures which is unique to Christianity.