Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Things Come to an End

We are increasingly close to this all being over.

It's a little hard to imagine that coming to pass.  After most of year struggling to adapt, adapt, and adapt again to this pandemic, the idea that we might finally have entered an endgame seems almost unimaginable.  

A vaccine, now tested and approved for distribution.  Production is amping up, and distribution to front line medical workers and the most vulnerable among us now appears to be starting within the month.  This is all really good news.

But we're not there yet.  It is hard, after all of the sacrifice and adapting of the last year, to look at a finish line that is four to six months away.  We're tired and ready to be done, impatient for that day when we can walk into a crowded theater and just watch a dang movie already.  We're ready for the kids to go off to school again.  We're ready to go and sit with folks we know again, and seeing that end goal so tangibly near at hand can feel too much.

It's not, any more than Advent is too much.  As children, we remember that wait as the Season progressed, as we somehow managed to hold on to our sanity as the season stretched on.  Days just trudged on by, slow as sludge, as Christmas morning dangled like Tantalus sugarplums, seemingly forever out of reach.  We gritted our teeth, and endured, and the day arrived on its own time and in its own way.

For we Jesus folk, the wait for that day when Christ's kingdom is fulfilled can seem equally far away.  We yearn for that day of rejoicing and peace, when the lion and lamb lie down together.  We've obviously been waiting for a while now, while the lion and the lamb get into an angry pointless rantfest in the comments section.  Still, we trust in that promise, and from that trust comes a deep reservoir of the Spirit's patience.

Christmas morning will come.  And this pandemic will end.  The day will come when we leave the house, realize we've forgotten our mask, and then realize that we have forgotten that we no longer need it.

What a lovely, lovely day that will be.

Friday, December 11, 2020

An Open Letter to the Galactic Federation on behalf of Sci Fi Writers

To whom it may concern:

As a homo sapiens sapiens, and inhabitant of the planet Earth (Sol 3/ Terra), let me be the first to thank the representatives of the Galactic Federation for your choice to hold off making formal contact with my species.  We were all delighted but not surprised to discover that you've been in regular contact with us.  While there's the possibility that the Israeli scientist who announced your existence to the world this week is simply insane, I'm choosing to take him at his word.  What with the revelation this year that UFOs are real, the flyby by the GFSC Omuamua, and your recent test signal from Proxima Centauri, it seems as likely as anything lately.

There are some folks who question your choice not to simply make your presence known, but I am not one of them.  Although we human beings would like to believe that we're ready to take our place among the other sentient species in the Laniakea Supercluster, we're obviously not there yet.  As a species, we're truculent, delusional, and prone to making impossibly stupid choices, as our decisionmaking around both the climate crisis and the recent global pandemic has made clear.  Not to mention the choices a significant minority in my nation make around leadership, which...um...well.  I can, again, understand your desire not to engage with such an immature and erratic race of beings.

At some point, though, you'll change your mind.  The time will come to make contact.  While I'm as eager as many of my fellow humans to see that happen, I'd like to humbly make a request on behalf of my profession.

I am what is known as a "writer."  I mostly write something we humans call "science fiction," which involves creating fictional narratives about our possible futures.  They're not true, not technically, but they're amusing.  They're something else, too, something deeper.  Those stories shape how we humans understand things.  They teach through narrative.  They lead us to more openness, and more willingness to constructively encounter both difference and new realities.  The best fantasy and science fiction...Welles and Bradbury, Leguin and Butler, Atwood and Jemisin...is part of how humankind is preparing itself to welcome you.

All around the planet, we sci fi writers are working on stories that will make humankind far better partners in your efforts.

Like, we've finalized manuscripts.  We've edited, and re-edited, and are really maybe actually finally going to get published.  I mean, we can taste it.  We've worked hard on our latest manuscript, I mean, seriously hard.  It's been rough, and ego crushing, but that's just what we writers have to live through.  It's part of the work of preparing our species for your arrival.  

So we sci fi authors and writers, your very best friends among all of humankind?  Here's what we humbly request:

We'd like you to continue to not contact us.  Please.

Y'all waiting just a little bit longer would be seriously, seriously appreciated.  I mean, what's the rush?  If you folks from the Galactic Federation decided to contact us right now, who's going to read my surely-soon-to-find-a-publisher manuscript?  Who's going to want to read about robot uprisings or imaginary aliens when freaking shiploads of actual aliens have arrived?  Who's going to read any of our lovingly crafted sci fi at all?

It's not just we writers, either. What's going to happen to the sci fi publishers and agents and editors whose livelihoods depend on folks reading these amazing stories of the future, if suddenly reality is far more interesting?  What's going to happen to all the filmmakers?  I mean, honestly.  Here we storytellers are, and we've been carrying water for y'all for the last hundred and fifty years, and this is how you repay us?  

C'mon.  Be fair. Cut us a break.

So...can you put off making contact for another decade or so?  Twenty thirty five seems like a nice time to show up.  And I'm sure, after all of the manuscripts we're currently working on have been published to great critical and popular acclaim, human beings will be more ready than ever to become constructive members of the federation.

So.  Just a little longer.  2035.  We'll be ready. Please?  

On behalf of all science fiction writers, I am,

Sincerely yours,


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Fool's New Clothes

He's clothed!

Such clothes!

You shout and cry

As wind's cold chills your

Unclothed thigh

For as you roar

And boast 

And sing

You are as naked

As your king.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

When Alternate Realities Collide

I am an expert when it comes to alternate realities.  Well, sort of.  To clarify:  With two published books on the subject, I am arguably one of the world's top ten experts on the intersection between Christian theology and the multiverse.

Arguably.  But I'm going with it.

It is and will continue to be my assumption that God's creation is more than our spacetime.  Instead, I view God's creative work as an infinite panoply of all potential reality, in which everything that can possibly exist does exist.  It's very much a minority position, and the sort of thing that would have meant all sorts of serious unpleasantness for me if I'd lived in an era where heresy wasn't the norm.  Yay separation of church and state!

That perspective has been strangely tested of late, as America is increasingly rent apart by competing narratives about what is real and what is good.  There are two diametrically opposed visions of reality at play, each of which stands in radical opposition to the other.

On the one hand, there is the narrative of a President who is a charismatic, straight-talking, no-nonsense businessman.  He tells it like it is, seeks to restore a nation to true faith and its rightful greatness, and "has a heart" for the common man.  He stands against a corrupt, sinister, and decadent cabal of secretive elites, who are doing everything they can to strip him of his rightful leadership.

On the other hand, there is the narrative of a President who is a charismatic huckster and charlatan.  He lies as easily as he breathes, and has dog whistled, worm-tongued, or bought his way into the confidence of millions.  Seeking attention, power and his own enrichment, he is now attempting to overthrow the results of an election, while those who are not bamboozled resist his despotic designs.

Both of these narratives cannot describe a single person, or a single reality.   They can be independently true, in separate universes.  If a theistic multiverse is your cosmology, as it is mine, they do.  In the infinite glory of God's manifold providence, a being named "Donald J. Trump" is both of those things.  Many other things too, like an animated meat toaster and a seven winged seraph, but let's stick with those two realities for now.  They are both "real," in that they may well exist in their respective corners of the multiverse.

But those realities cannot coexist in one time and space as descriptors of a particular entity.  Truth and reality are complicated, sure, and we human beings are none of us perfect.  But there is a difference between personal complexity and antithesis, between accurate description and fundamental error.  

If I step outside and say "It is raining right now," I am making a specific statement about reality.  It is either true or it is not.

Now, one might try to obfuscate or qualify that statement.  "Well, what if it's drizzling?"  "What do you mean by 'right now'" "Does a sun shower count?"  "Did you know that the Xuatatla people have forty seven words for rain?"  But then you are being willfully stupid, the sort of stupid that comes when we use reason to overthrow common sense.

Either there is a massive conspiracy to commit fraud, or a pathological narcissist and those in his thrall are lying.  It is either part of our reality or not.  There is no Hegelian synthesis between the two.  And unlike statements about higher order realities like Love, Purpose, and God, a statement about material reality is provable.  There must be evidence that affirms or denies the truth we claim.

Were I to contact you via email and let you know that I currently have 125,327 Bitcoin in my accidentally frozen Coinbase account, and ask to use that as collateral for a personal loan from you, you'd need some evidence of that assertion.  If I couldn't give you that affirmation, you could still take me at my word.  But that'd be foolish.

The assertions of election fraud are precisely the same thing.  There is no evidence to verify them. They simply did not happen.  They are not part of our reality.  Nor are the assertions that the vaccine is a tool of a demonic elite cabal.  Nor are any of the fevered fabulisms of QAnon.  None of these things are real.  Not one has a place in our corner of creation.  They have no foundation at all.

When we make statements about our reality that have no basis in that reality, then we are mistaken, delusional, or lying.  Mistakes?  We all make them.  They can be corrected.  It's part of growing and learning.

Delusions and lies are more dangerous than mistakes, because they are fiercely resilient.  They do not yield to correction.  Nor do they yield to evidence, because they never relied on evidence in the first place. They represent the semiotic incursion into our reality of something fundamentally alien to it, as if another realm of being was trying to press into our own to define it.

For the soul in thrall of a delusion, their delusion must be defended at all costs.  There is no evidence because that evidence IS BEING HIDDEN.  IT GOES DEEPER THAN WE EVER THOUGHT!  

Or, if you know you're lying, this is where one lie leads to another deeper lie, which will lead to another and another.  

That's what has made the "reality" pitched out by conspiracy theorists, radical ideologues, and propagandists so damaging to the arc of our history.  Those false narratives, those "alternative facts?"  They make a truth claim that isn't simply unfalsifiable, but is actually the antithesis of the sliver of creation that we inhabit.  It does not belong here.

There's an archaic word, one used by more primal peoples.  It describes what happens when something alien to our reality tries to take control of it...and of us.  It's a word that's a bit awkward on the tongues of the overeducated, and has what could at best be considered a checkered history.

That word is "demonic."

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Never Preaching about Politics

Let it be clear: I never preach politics. Ever. Nor will I ever allow myself to endorse a political candidate or party from the pulpit.

I preach only from the witness of bible and from stories of history, which inoculate our souls against the demons that afflict humankind. Just as there are dark yearnings at play in our own souls, so too are there Powers that tear at the souls of cultures and nations. A pastor who ignores those things is doing a disservice to their community.

So in the past several years I have preached on many things. Challenging our sinful love of violence, I've used sermon illustrations from the civil war in Spain. I described the rise of Europe's most successful fascist experiment. I've talked what that looked like under Franco, who co-opted Christians into his bloody rise.

I've called to mind the self-destructive propaganda of the old Soviet Union, where basic principles of agriculture were set aside in favor of ideologically acceptable "alternative agriculture." Starvation ensued.

As a warning against charismatic charlatans, I've sounded scripture off of the story of Jim Jones and the People's Temple, and what it looks like when people fall under the thrall of a demonic narcissist.

I've preached and taught from the Proverbs, which teach the difference between biblical wisdom and foolishness. The wise are measured, moderate, circumspect, and humble. They speak carefully. They understand the impact of their words. They do not stir passions. They are constant, diligent, and thrifty. They seek peace. They are faithful to their commitments and their mates. Fools are none of those things. They shoot off their mouths, fail to restrain their anger, and always blame everyone but themselves. They are flighty, shortsighted, and wanton. They foment discord. They base their choices on the lies they tell themselves, and not the truths of God's Word and the reality of God's creation.

I preached against the deadly sin of pride, using as my illustration the tale of William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States, who passed away in office because he was too stubborn to wear a jacket in the rain. Or so the legend goes...the truth, as always, is a little more complicated.

On another recent Sunday, I preached about what we owe the emperor and what we owe God, referencing recent studies on the human tendency towards authoritarianism, and how...even though Jesus shows us what servant leadership looks like...there's still a part of many of us that yearns for a despot.

I have done all of those things. I will continue to do so. All are utterly biblical, and speak to the Principalities that seek to drive grace from our culture. Is that politics? No. Partisan politics has no place in the pulpit.

But a faith that does not speak to our life together and to our identity as a people is meaningless.