Saturday, March 29, 2008

Confabulation and Story Telling

Don't know what confabulation means? Well look it up! Just google it.

O.K. Now that you know that, know this: I am the king of confabulation. I used to think I had a great memory. Then my sweet daughter Pamela went to college. She came home and taught me about confabulation. Now I have no idea whether my memory is very good or not. I do know that between my memory and confabulation, I can almost always come up with a story. I don't know if all geezers can do this, but it is stereotypical behavior at the very least.

O.K. So a bartender has a bit of trouble remembering how to make a cocktail. I decide I should tell a little story to make her feel more at ease. Here it is.

I am in a restaraunt in Socorro, New Mexico circa 1975. I am with my brother and his first wife. This is a Mexican food and beer sort of place, but by that time I have lived in California for a year and feel that I must display my sophistication. So I lift the little placard on the linoleum covered dinette table and see that a bottle of California wine can be had at only a slightly exorbitant price. Of course I order one. Our server delivers it to the table with three wine glasses. Alas, there is a problemo. The cork has not been removed. Que pasa? A cork? Such a thing has not been seen in this restaurant before. Quick el nino, run across to the liquor store and buy a cork screw. The boy returns with corkscrew and we all enjoy a fine, though perhaps dusty, bottle of wine.

Is this a true story? Maybe my brother, David can remember. If he can't, I have no way of knowing how much is real and how much is confabulation. Does it matter? I don't know. I just hope the story did actually put the bartender at ease.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Butterfly Effect

Perhaps you have heard the idea that the flapping of a single butterfly's wings might trigger a series of events that could result in change as dramatic as a tornado being spawned a thousand miles away. You can read about it in Wikipedia here: The Butterfly Effect

I believe that seemingly insignificant events in my past have had tremendous consequences. A kind word spoken. A hand on my shoulder. A moment of forbearance. It is easy to believe that my life might be very different if any of those had not happened. However, when I look forward, I tend to imagine that only "big" actions on my part will have any significance. The big gift. The major sacrifice. The adventurous trip. It occurred to me recently how foolish it is to think that only the "big" things matter when the entire course of my life has been altered by things that might seem very small to anyone, even me.

Perhaps the realization of how much impact my every choice may have is painful. I may want to avoid a full understanding of it. However, if I am to do God's will on this earth, it is time that I believe that he will enable me to bear the consequences of such knowledge. It does not make me important. It does make my choices important. If I view the choice to forgive, the choice to serve, the choice to endure, as being vitally important, perhaps I will find the strength to make better choices.

I continue to make very many poor choices. I trust God to forgive me and to work all things to good. However, that is no reason to avoid seeking to participate with him in seeing his will done in all of creation. I pray that he will strengthen me to make choices that will glorify him.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Slow Learner

I am a slow learner. I hope you are doing better, but probably not. God lets most of us live for decades. Those appear to be decades we need to learn lessons he has for us before we move on to a world with no more crying and no more pain. I believe I will still learn in the next life, but it will have to be learning that can occur without pain as our teacher.

I realize that much learning does occur without pain. I am very grateful that it does. Joy, beauty, and love make wonderful teachers. I would be very happy to have them as the complete faculty for The Academy of This Life. However, God loves me too much to give me an incomplete education.

If I am honest, however, I must admit that pain has taught me lessons that I refused to learn from all other teachers. God knows all things and knows me better than I know myself. God knows that there have been and will be lessons that only pain can teach me. I have spent so much of my life avoiding pain or wishing that pain would go away, that I have failed to appreciate how instructive pain can be. I don't think I really appreciate it now. But I am learning.

I am a slow learner. But God will grant me exactly as much time as I need for the lessons I am able to learn.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A Source for My Stuff

George Carlin recorded a comedy album entitled "A Place for My Stuff". I remember it being hilarious. We who are blessed to live in rich countries (or who are just plain rich) often laugh about or lament the status of all our stuff. Stuff accumulates. We have silly stuff, good stuff, important stuff, and useless stuff. I believe we would generally say that we have too much stuff (or at least too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of some other stuff). When I am in a generous mood, it may occur to me that many other folks are actually quite short on stuff. Not merely poor, but actually starving or freezing to death.

We all need to spend some time thinking about where all that stuff comes from. It is not enough to just say, let's divide what we have more equally. Even the best stuff only lasts so long and much is quite temporary (as with food). So what is the source for all the stuff we hope to share? I devised a thought experiment to help:

I imagine myself standing out in a wilderness somewhere with nothing on my body and nothing in my possession. Naked as a jay bird was the common phrase when I was a kid. Without even a pot to piss in was another.

Water, food, clothing, and shelter will soon come to my mind. Where shall I start? Perhaps I will cut a few branches and make a rude shelter (oops, no knife, this is nasty hard work with no knife).
I look for something to eat and soon realize that I have virtually no knowledge of what I might eat safely. I may manage to eat a few berries or a grasshopper without getting violently ill, but I am still pretty hungry. I see a rabbit grazing nearby, and amazingly enough, I manage to hit it with a rock and kill it. With a jagged rock and a lot of jerking and tearing I wind up with some raw meat and a raggedy piece of raw pelt. Not the finest dining and casual wear. Assuming I don't die of exposure, and that I can find some water, it looks like I have a good shot at living a week or even a month in abject misery before something kills me (hunger, disease, insect bites, or an accident of some sort). The local predators leave me alone, but I suspect that it because I seem unappetizing as opposed to threatening.

If I could have just a few things, what would I hope for? A knife or hatchet. A few articles of appropriate clothing. A fish hook. What is the source of such things? A store or a peddler, of course, but where do they get them? A blacksmith could whip up a metal object, assuming access to metal and tools to work it with. Where do they get the metal? Rocks. It's something about digging up rocks and wresting the metal from them (uh oh, need some tools again).
Just keep thinking it through. The crudest bare metal knife requires a very involved set of processes, lots of knowledge, and a lot of work. Something as simple as a cotton T shirt starts with "cultivate and harvest cotton". Making thread and turning thread into cloth will prove to be daunting tasks.

Being all alone seems to be a big part of the problem. Suddenly, I discover a crowd of ten thousand people who have been miraculously transported to a meadow near the scene of the rabbit carnage. Hurray, I am saved! Oops. Maybe not yet. They too are naked as jay birds and are urinating without containers. We are relieved to discover that we all speak a common language, but dismayed when we find that few of us know much at all about making things. Eventually, however, we find that there are a few of us that know a bit about one thing or another. A few more explore and experiment and learn a bit more. Those with knowledge and ability divide their time between actually doing those things and teaching some of the rest of us to help. Others care for the children (I didn't say 10,000 adults!) or fetch and carry whatever is needed by those who seem to know what they are doing. Gradually we begin to accumulate a bit of food, a few rude articles of clothing, and find a cave or built a hut or two. Even supposing a miraculously loving group of 10,000, we have problems deciding how to divide up the fruits of our collective labor. We certainly want to keep the knowledgeable and able people fed, or we will all die. We all love the kids and do what we can to help them. How long before we start looking for someone who doesn't "deserve" a share or who ought to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of others? It's only stuff, but suddenly living and dying depend on how much we get. And even if we are so noble as to be willing to sacrifice ourselves by going without, will that help the others in the longer term? Will our children be better off? If I happen to be the only authority on edible plants, shouldn't I keep living for the sake of the others?

Water and food. Dry and warm. All depend on the sum total of our knowledge and work.

Now I fast forward quite a few thousand years and discover that many of the ten thousand survived to prosper and propagate themselves. Now there are 10 billion. However, some are comfortable and well fed, others hover on the edge of catastrophe, and many millions are dying for want of basic stuff. Would a forced redistribution of all the stuff owned by these 10 billion guarantee survival and comfort for all? Even if it could,how would such a thing be enforced? Nor would a redistribution remain static thereafter. Stuff wears out. Stuff is consumed. We still need sources for more stuff.

I will end the thought experiment here for now. I see the need to produce stuff. I see the need for knowledge. I see the need for work. I know that some sort of social cohesion must be fostered. I may even be more inclined to share my stuff with those who have less. I pray that I will be given wisdom about meeting those needs. I pray that God will grant me the ability to work effectively and to share generously. May God help me to love even those who seem bent on disrupting whatever fragile peace we manage to attain. May he give me discernment about when I must forgive and when, if ever, I must fight.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Inner Circle and Outer Circle

C.S. Lewis wrote an excellent essay entitled "The Inner Circle". It is difficult to do justice to it with a short summary. The gist is that most of us are plagued by a desire to join an "inner circle" of acquaintances purely because we want to satisfy the pride of knowing that we are in and others are out. Lewis makes it clear that close circles of friends or colleagues are a fine thing when their purpose is relationship with each other. The perversion is when our lust is to know that we are in a circle that has excluded others, but included us. Lewis did a great job of clarifying an area that I had struggled with for years.

Tonight I find myself wondering about a corollary desire to touch an "outer circle". Modern communications, especially the Internet, have enabled me to stay in touch with people from all over the world. Indeed, at times my initial contact is via the Internet, and face to face comes much later or never. As with the inner circle, it seems a wholesome and desirable thing to maintain relationships for the sake of the relationships. What I wonder is this: How much am I driven by a desire to simply enlarge my "outer circle" to show what an influential fellow I am. Using others, even just using them electronically, to gratify my ego and prop up my sense of importance is a very sad possibility. I am not consciously doing so, but I am left to wonder about the purity of my motives.

The word "motives" reminds me of something that has given me solace. I thank God that often my motives are mixed selfishness and love. I thank God because there have been and still are times when my motives are pure selfishness. Mixed is progress. Pure love will probably not be an option until I am made new in the next life.