Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wish Fulfillment

I recently read an opinion that wish fulfillment is a process of projecting onto someone our image of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or the like. From that I realized that some people act out of wishes but they project their own wishes and dreams onto Jesus.

Someone once said "God created man in his own image - and man returned the favour". I did a web search and found that "someone" might be Blaise Pascal, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, or a random philosopher or theologian. I'm not sure exactly who was the author, though if it was someone French, I would almost guess that there would be a French quote with the mention of it on the various websites. We do some crazy things when it comes to wish fulfillment. One example is that we take good quotes and ascribe them to someone we feel was historically "clever". Mark Twain gets a lot of credit for things he never said, exactly for that reason, as I expect the other folks in the list also do. I expect we'll properly attribute stuff only when we get to heaven.

Those who have spent much time talking to me, probably have heard the quote before, and know my next allusion will be to J.B. Phillips 1952 book "You're God is Too Small". Written by the same man who actually produced the Phillips Translation of the New Testament, it is an engaging and thought provoking book talking about how we re-create God in our image.

I'm sure the general idea is available to most of us. We are too small and God is too big. Whenever we try to imagine what God is like, we distort his image into one we are more comfortable with, whether emotionally, intellectually, or philosphically. Man made gods, whether they are made of stone, wood, or the noosphere, just are more convenient.

Its far easier to serve and believe in someone we can relate to, and much easier to not face ourselves by having a god that we can predict, figure out and most importantly, control.
As an echo of my previous blogs , I just have to ask, if God fits into this very small mould we make for him, is this someone we really can trust and believe? The Truth is generally stuff we can't quite handle. It's far easier to wish that we have found the truth than it is to face what truth is revealed. I think the Strict Interpreters (Pharasees/Perushin/Hakamim) , Free/Liberal Interpreters (Saducees), and Ascetic Interpreters (Essenes) would have all loved a Jesus who fit into their own box.

It's great, but it isn't reality. Reality is a place with sharp edges and corners, where kids (metaphorically or not) can fall and skin their knees. It is also a place where drug addiction, exploitation, gossip, self-righteousness and various other snares of the soul can trap people, sometimes for a very long time. We live in a Post-Fall world where dog-eat-dog leaves many people who can't understand Jesus-Saves.

It is a harsh world that we got after the Fall. The world where "Survival of the Fittest" holds, isn't really a world where the value of the individual is really understood. And no matter how much we wish it were better, this doesn't change that life with thorns and by the "sweat of your brow" really is what we have, and wishing doesn't make it better. A significant fact about this is that God agrees with us, doesn't like it any better than we do.

There are many theological thoughts about this, usually talking about the value of faith, and the sovereignty of God, about the patience of God, and the right of Free Will. Some people want to say that God is powerless, while others point out that he is keeping a promise to let us grow. Some discuss about Bad Things happening to Good People, and others point out that "our righteousness is like filthy rags". The intricacy of all these ideas is why Theology is known as the queen of the sciences. Theology, as a science, essentially depends upon careful observation, logical arguments, and exacting definitions. The lesser sciences, like physics and chemistry, get to include the principles of repeatability and falsifiability.

The bottom line for accountants is the place where all the credits and debits add up to a single concluding line. Sometimes Christians seem to only focus on the credits but the debits exist too. Life is rough, and as Rich Mullin's song says "don't make sense at all". He follows this with the prayer "to Hold Me, Jesus". Pam Thum has a song which has the same message "Sometimes living takes the life out of you", followed by the phrase "Life is Hard, but God is Good". Which of course, reminds us about the simple gospel message, that God loves us, and gives us a way out through his Salvation.

So my bottom line is:

Jesus Saves

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Cats, Categories, and other Gory details.

Cats have personalities. I was recently talking to a friend about cats, and we could describe the way that cats in our lives acted, and even talked about some cats as "lap cats", and others as "aloof". Since I had never really seen his cats for very long, nor he had seen mine, an interesting thing to me is that we still were able to characterize them, and tell a few funny stories about their behaviour. I would argue in fact, that the absense of personal knowledge of his particular cats actually strengthens the case that cats have personalities in and of themselves. Because I had seen the same kinds of behaviour in cats of my experience. Its not that we are ascribing a personality to creatures who didn't have one. We were simply giving a name to their behaviour and recognizing we could categorize cats.

Most people who think abstractly love categories. It gives us the opportunity to name things that we didn't characterize before. As an example of this, some people describe Man as a "tool-maker" because they want to focus on the building of tools as a part of intelligence. Another example I've heard is "Curious Creature". Again this emphasizes a particular class of behaviour seen in people. I think another accurate descriptor is to call Man a "name-user". In Genesis, we are reminded that God gave to Adam the responsibility of naming all the animals. One of the interesting things about this is that this task was given before the Fall. Thus, one can argue that whatever happened afterward, the principle that God does not take back his gifts [Romans 11:29], means that the ability and even the responsibility to "name names" is an essential characteristic of all humans. So we love associating things from Life with names because it is a built-in drive.

So, as an exercise in category-making, let's say I know someone who has brought life into this world, who is very protective, much like a mother hen with her chicks, who is creating new things regularly, concerned about the style and beauty of the home place where they are, who can even be called a homebody. Someone else who knew our mystery person well, even described them as a "great comfort", and someone who would stand beside and support, someone whose warm presence is a "breath of fresh air". Would you characterize our mystery person as more "motherly" or "fatherly" ?

Now as a digression, I'd like to say that when I'm wearing my "categorize and name the world" hat, I usually use the root meanings of a word as guidance, but not the sole definition of the word. For example, someone can be "motherly" who never actually mothered any children.
I would say that a "fatherly" person wouldn't even have to be married, but I guess that betrays my mindset that anyone who has children should be married to their partner in procreation. Kids deserve all the help they can get, and that means two loving parents who love each other and are married to each other. Its a tough world out there, and I know that the ideal doesn't always become real, but someone with a family behind them is stronger, and able to handle much more than those who don't.

Enough editorializing, and back to our mystery person. I would ascribe the adjective "motherly" to them, and with no contrary evidence, assume that the pronoun "she" would be appropriate, even if I didn't know "her" name. Your mileage may vary.
If I added a hint that the person I was talking about was named Shekinah and sometimes Paraclete, I'm sure some readers would know exactly where I'm going with this.

The name "Shekinah" is based on a Hebrew word "sheken" which means dwelling or home. Hence I said our mystery person was a homebody. Interestingly enough, this name also is tied to the word "eshkar" which means gift. The name "Paraclete" is a Greek word meaning "one beside", and was elaborated by Jesus as the Comforter. At various times, the Divine Breath,
[Hebrew:ruach hakodesh], has been called the Glory of God [Hebrew:Kabod Jehovah], whose warm presence as a pillar of fire led the people of Israel through the desert away from Egypt. The 8th chapter of Proverbs refers to the Holy Wisdom of God (Greek:Haga sofia, Hebrew: chokmah hakodesh) who was present at creation with God. In English, we refer to the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Spirit.

Supporting whether a "male" or "female" pronoun should be applied to God, is in a way, foolish.
According to Scriptures, we know that God has a body solely in Jesus and so it is easiest to use the pronoun "he" in referring to God. The curious thing is that many of the Hebrew words traditionally used to talk about the Holy Ghost are feminine. In fact, my research shows at least one time (in Isaiah 51:9) the phrase "she cut" from the Hebrew text, (refering to the hand/arm of the LORD) was translated as "it cut", perhaps because someone was uncomfortable with a feminine form of God, or because the English word for "arm" has no gender. My guess is that the phrase "...art thou not she who..." would stir up as many conversations as translating the word "baptism" as "dunking".

My final point is that God truly is in the details, quoting Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, again in my blog. Looking at the details adds new meaning to the promise of James 1:5 that "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.". God has promised to send us this Wise Spirit who will lead us into all truth. And if the Bible seems to indicate that the Spirit should be referred to as "she", then we should face up to this and recognize that even amidst our human contradictions of multiple genders applied to God, we still can trust, and believe, for that is who God is.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Fish, Flash ... Blog in under a minute

Just a quick blog entry to mention happy things that are going on my life. (a friend calls this Flash blogging).

Cycorp has released a new version of OpenCyc (the first in two years or so).
The cool thing is that they have released a several times larger knowledgebase than before.
Other breaking news is that they are changing their release strategy which may increase participation outside of Cycorp dramatically. They have an open server if your firewall doesn't block port 3602.

WorldVistA just had a development meeting in Salt Lake City. Got a chance to see some folks I have known for a while, and get to know in more depth some people I didnt' know very well.
Generally, strategy about creating effective Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) for VistA.
Lots of ideas about visualization, effective strategies for presenting information to end-users,
and methods to implement, such as m2web. The conversations ranged from security authorizations for protected content, to development strategies to keep track of code versioning. Lots of good stuff. Our next general meeting is in April, corresponding to the $HOROLOG rollover to 60,000.

And finally: A link attempting to explain why so many cars have the icon of a fish on their bumper. (Disclaimer Note: I did a web search, found the page, generally it covers what I know. Further web search, especially on wikipedia seems to support the bit about the goddess Atargatis, tying her to Ashtorath (from the Old Testament) and Astarte (from which we get the word "Easter") and the Pythagoras, where it is tied to a mathematical/geometric object called the Vesica Piscis and the square root of 3. I assume the quote is accurately represented from Jung but I had never read it myself. I also had never heard of Vishnu being symbolized by a fish.

But hey, that is the fun thing about symbols. They are highly community and individual specific.
The same symbol to one person may be highly religious, expressing their heart succintly, and for another person may be blasphemous. Its a good thing that God doesn't look on the outside, but looks at our hearts.