First of all, I want to apologize for missing yesterday’s post. Friday and Saturday were extremely busy for Alayna and I. However, the good news is that 1) we officially have 90% of the baby stuff organized, put together, and put away, which is kind of huge… except for the swing, which is sitting in pieces on the living room floor because I don’t have an instruction manual for putting it together and, as far as I can tell, it’s just a bunch of random metal bars that don’t actually go together (I’m sure that I’m wrong about this). 2) I am finally getting a new computer–and a good one at that. I’m doing most of my work from home now, especially with the baby coming, and so I can go back to a desktop. This means a better computer for cheaper, plus I’m getting a friend of mine to put it together, so I’m going to have a computer that can actually do stuff! And hopefully not randomly shut down on me… or randomly refuse to shut down when I actually need it to. Anyway, business and blessings both abound (and yes, that was intentional… I like alliteration). That being said, this weekend has not been great for writing posts, so again, my apologies for missing yesterday and for the generally random, ‘here’s my life’ quality of this post. However, I do hope that you all have an amazing day!
So, here’s the deal: Tess is extremely busy this week and I forgot to send the schedule to everyone else (this has since been remedied) and I’m exhausted and have a hundred other things on my mind. So, while I apologize that this may not have anything to do with writing, today you will get some of the random things that have been on my mind today. First, Alayna had her first serious ‘I might be in labor’ moment today. She wasn’t, but the doctor did say that it will probably happen fairly soon. Also, in the Euthyphro Plato raises the question of whether the gods are good because they do what they know to be good, or whether good is good because the gods do it. While the question was originally phrased in this way by Plato, it has become one of the major questions in Christian moral theology: does God do what he knows to be ontologically good by some outside definition, or is what God does good because God does it? Four major positions have been presented as a response to this:
- God does what he knows to be good. In Euthyphro Plato argues that the gods do what is good because they know it to be good. In both this text and in The Republic Plato argues for a conception of the good as an ultimate form of reality that the gods know better than men because they have greater access to knowledge of it. Thus, the good is good ontologically speaking regardless of what the gods say or do and the gods are then beholden to follow this ontological definition of good if they are to be deemed good gods (though in The Laws Plato retreated from this view and argued that for the good to have a meaningful ontological existence it must be founded in a divine mind). Many Christian thinkers have adopted a similar idea, arguing that God does what is good ontologically speaking and that this good is good regardless of who does it or who does not do it. Thus, on this conception God could do evil and be judged for it, but he chooses not to. However, this seems to impose an outside restriction upon God. If God does not decide what is good then who does? Where did the good as an ontological reality come from if it did not come from God? Who has the power and authority to tell God what he must do to be considered good?
- Whatever God says or does is good because he is God. Several Christian thinkers have adopted a volitional idea of goodness. God is sovereign and has all authority and thus whatever he says or does is the definition of what is good. Thus, God’s word defines what is good for reality and for men simply because it is God’s word. This idea sufficiently accepts God as sovereign and argues that the world must simply submit to his will. However, it also seems to argue that God could declare anything to be good. Thus, if God suddenly decided that rape, theft, or the sacrifice of children in the worship of Moloch are good then they would actually and ontologically be good. This makes ‘good’ entirely subjective and arbitrary, which seems to reject the actual notion of an ontological reality. If the ‘real’ good can be arbitrarily changed then it is subjective, not objective or fundamentally real.
- God’s nature defines the good and his word and will reflect this nature. Many Christian thinkers have argued for an understanding of the relationship between God and good that weaves a thread between the above two views. This argument goes that God’s ontological and unchanging nature defines what is good and evil: that which corresponds with God’s nature is thus good and that which does not correspond with God’s nature is evil. Thus, it cannot be argued that good is simply subjective or that it an be arbitrarily altered by God’s command. It is God’s nature, his essential and unchanging being, that defines what is good, not God’s word or action. However, this also defends a strong conception of God’s sovereignty: there is no outside ontological standard of goodness to which God is beholden and no one can be said to have imposed a standard of goodness upon God. It is God’s own nature that imposes the standard of goodness that his words and actions then reflect.
- However, this has led to a conception that God’s words and actions necessarily follow his nature: that is that God cannot do evil in the sense that he is ontologically incapable of doing evil. This seems to limit God’s omnipotence. While we may certainly argue that God has not, would not, and will not ever rape someone, it seems to limiting to say that God is ontologically incapable of rape. Proponents of this view have argued that it can fit within an understanding of omnipotence if we understand omnipotence as the ability to do anything that is within one’s nature to do, but this seems to be a deficient understanding of omnipotence. If, for instance, I am a perfect human that cannot fly or create stars I could, under this definition, be called omnipotent because I can do everything that it is within my nature to do. However, if a human can be omnipotent on his own then it seems to be of little value to say that God is omnipotent.
- A solution to this problem is a strong distinction between ontological capability and volitional capability. That is to say that it is correct to say that God cannot do evil. However, saying that God cannot do evil is not to say that God is ontologically incapable of doing evil, as if some greater power were restraining him, but to say that he is volitionally incapable of doing evil. God cannot do evil because he will not do anything that violates his own nature. This is something that cannot be said of humans: we violate our own nature on a regular basis. Even those who give a very loose definition or conception of human nature must accept that the average human experience existential and psychological crises because they violate that which they perceive to be their own nature. On a stronger definition of human nature it is necessary to accept that humans consistently violate those purposes for which they were created and thus violate their own nature. However, God does not violate his own nature, and thus because he is volitionally capable of perfectly living out his divine nature he is volitionally incapable of doing evil, which is that which is against his nature. Thus, God can do evil in an ontological sense (which provides a strong concept of omnipotence), but he perfectly refuses to do evil in a volitional sense (which provides a strong conception of his omnibenevolence that protects his sovereignty).
Just a few thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of days. I hope that you enjoy them and that, in some way, they benefit your writing.
So, Alayna is an absolutely amazing wife. For a combined Father’s day/Anniversary present she got me a pre-order of the new game Total War: Warhammer (which comes out on the 24th). This is a game that I (and a lot of other people) have been waiting for someone, anyone, to make for around fifteen years. I still play a few video games, but I don’t generally play that many (I don’t have time to play that many…). I actually still haven’t gotten around to finishing Pillars of Eternity (though it is an awesome game). However, like I said, this is a game that I’ve been waiting for fifteen years to see someone make. I’m a little bit excited about it. Anyway, on a completely different note, something that I’ve been thinking about lately is American Christian attitudes towards money (on the individual level) and economics (on the societal level). I often see attitudes in the Christian church that do little to reflect the actual teachings of scripture. In general, these attitudes tend to follow the two common secular attitudes towards general economics: Capitalist Christians and Socialist Christians. Now, I should point out first that when I speak of Capitalism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in America, not the economic structures that you find in Columbia or Niger. Similarly, when I speak of Socialism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in Austria, Germany, or Canada, not the economic structures that we saw in Society Russia or Maoist China. A good argument can be made that extreme Communism is a form of Socialism. However, a good argument can also be made that the oppressive ‘free’ markets of South America and Central Africa are a form of Capitalism. So, for a good comparison conservative Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another and extreme Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another: that is that Soviet Russia should be compared to Columbia and Canada should be compared to the US.
That being said, I don’t honestly think that either Capitalism or Socialism effectively presents a biblical attitude towards economics. It is true that Adam Smith’s original theory (Capitalism) did make some use of the Christian concept of providence in the ‘Invisible Hand’ of the market. However, even in his original theory this comes across more as a statement that ‘God is in control so we don’t need that many rules’ (and in laissez-faire capitalism this tends to turn into ‘we don’t need any rules’). However, this seems to be a muted and generally empty conception of Providence, which must be combined with Sovereignty to have any meaningful content. Christian versions of Capitalist theory generally faik to acknowledge that the world is the Lord’s and all that is in it, but attempts to rely on the idea that God guides the unknowable forces of the free market. Instead of actually living in a world that is seen as meaningfully God’s, with all of the responsibilities (social and theological) that come with that understanding, it tends to adopt a Capitalist assumption that economic growth is essentially good (that is in Aristotelian terms that goodness is a necessary component of economic growth such that if it is not good it cannot be called economic growth, this would be opposed to an accidental and contingent goodness of economic growth which accepts that economic growth is good when it stems from good motives and is used for good ends). In extreme forms of Capitalism this assumption is used to justify over oppression and subjugation of vulnerable people groups. However, even in less extreme forms of Capitalism the assumption is present and generally leads to the rejection of regulations that are necessary to effectively guide the market according to God’s principles. For instance, consider the economic laws of the Old Testament such as the Sabbatical Years or the Year of Jubilee, the requirements against the charging of interest, etc. These laws existed to ensure that the economic growth of the nation of Israel protected and provided for even the weakest among them. The economic oppression and subjugation of the weak members of Jewish society was not acceptable under the Old Testament law, and throughout the Prophets this very economic oppression and subjugation is one of their primary condemnations of Israel.
However, on the other hand, Socialist theories tend to attempt to take regulation into the hands of man. They tend to reject the concept of the invisible hand of the market and the concept of providence that goes with it. However, this equally rejects the sovereignty of God. Scripture absolutely supported the equitable provision of opportunities, and this is consistently seen in the Law through the emphasis that the land could not be permanently bought or sold. Every Israelite family had the opportunity to develop their own land and thus prosper economically. However, scripture no where supports the intentional redivision of resources in order to provide equal income. What the Israelites did with their land was on them. Those who cared for their land well and prospered tended to have more and those who neglected their land fell into debt and sometimes had to sell themselves into indentured servitude (I use this term because it more accurately described the strictures of the law than ‘slavery,’ which has specific connotations in America that do not reflect the Mosaic Law). However, even in these cases their masters were to treat them well, and every fifty years slaves were freed and their original land was returned so that the family could start over. So, the idea that a universal $15 minimum wage is a moral necessity simply doesn’t see biblical support, nor does the excessive taxation of the wealthy in order to provide welfare services to those who could work, but don’t. However, the taxation of those who can and do work in order to provide for those who legitimately can’t (i.e. the seriously handicapped or very vulnerable) absolutely sees biblical support. As does the argument that the government has a responsibility to care for the poor (in fact, in the Old Testament it is most commonly the King, Judge, or Ruler who is expected to enforce the laws that provide for the legitimately poor, and it is the wealthy who are expected to leave some of their income in order to supply this provision).
Ultimately, Christian Capitalists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact of greed upon the economic structures of the nation while Christian Socialists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact laziness upon the economic structures of the nation. This is very general and the issue is significantly more complicated, but this seems to be an apt, if very general, description. So, here is my question for you: is there a third option? Some Confucian scholars have pointed to several area in the Far East (specifically Singapore and Japan) that are in the process of developing ‘Communitarian Capitalism,’ which stands starkly against the individualistic and often greed-focused liberalism of Laissez-Faire Capitalism, but stands equally against the thoroughly State-Led nature of Socialism and accepts the general idea of a free market that is, to some degree, self-directing. However, this is effectively experimental and, for Christians, likely falls into some of the same traps as I outlined above. If there is a third option, what significant underlying assumptions would it be founded upon?
As always, write me a story of 1000+ words that gives your take on the issue.
Here’s another new poem that I finalized just recently and debuted at an open mic night this week. I’m calling it “Secret Identity.”
Question for discussion: do you prefer poems with a definite rhyme or rhythm (like this one will be), or ones written in free verse (like the last one I posted)? I feel like free verse is more “in vogue” these days, and so for a while most of what I wrote was free verse. But personally, I find that when I write for spoken word or specifically for performance (as I have been doing lately), I like to go back to consistent rhyme and rhythm if I can. Having a rhythm and a pattern or beat helps me to keep my pace when the audible sounds are the focus more than the written word.
Anyway, here’s “Secret Identity.” I hope you enjoy it.
My shirt and tie may cover me.
These glasses hide my eyes.
But still this outer man you see
is merely a disguise.
By day I speak on words and books.
Your minds I try to fill.
I may give disapproving looks
or tell you to sit still.
But underneath there’s so much more
than what you could dream of:
a soldier fighting holy war,
a heart that’s full of love
and far-too-idealistic hopes
in my heroic quest
to talk of more than tomes and tropes
but make your life feel blessed.
Behind the desk, behind the beard,
behind the endless puns
lies something more than first appeared:
deep care for broken ones.
I see you there, alone and lost
like sheep, a shepherd needing.
You don’t know I’d pay any cost
to simply stop the bleeding.
You’ll never know how much I care
or how I long to hold you
or how I wish I could be there
though outwardly I scold you.
Oh, how I longed to draw you near
like a hen unto her chicks,
to chase off every hurt and fear—
to shield, to heal, to fix.
Of burdens I would bear the brunt—
but alas, I am unable,
for I stand up here at the front
while you sit at your table.
For after all, I’m only one
flawed, finite, mortal creature,
and when it all is said and done,
I’m just a high school teacher.
But I’ll always be here on your side.
I’ll always be your fan.
I couldn’t save you if I tried,
but I’ll do what I can.
I haven’t written much fiction lately, but I’ve been working on some poetry. And as our own Mr. Mastgrave reminded me this week, a poem can often be a form of telling a story. In my case, I certainly believe that that’s true. Some people are gifted enough that they can write beautiful poems about almost anything, but I can really only bring myself to write one when I have the right inspiration, usually when it has been influenced by something from my life—-a story, if you will.
Later in the week, I may write a post analyzing poems and storytelling a little more thoroughly. For now, I’d just like to share with you some of the latest ones I’ve written. The following is a work in progress born of an emotion inside me, but I didn’t really put it down in words until yesterday–so I reserve the right to edit and change it later on as I revisit it. (But I am planning to unveil it to the public at an open mic night tonight, so hopefully it’s ready enough for that at least!)
I have named this poem “The Wanderer’s Lament.”
Home is not the mattress I sleep on
in a brick building far too uptight
to be anything more than a temporary dwelling.
Home is no longer the four walls
where I talked and laughed with two best friends
right up until everything changed.
Home is not even where my parents live, or my brothers,
or the simpler, more idealistic version of myself
I can still glimpse within my mind,
reading a book or doing homework
in that familiar house ten years ago.
Home is not a past that can never be repeated–
but neither is it the ever-fleeting present
or some hopeful future still in flux.
Home is not a grand adventure
where I crossed the river to chase my dreams
and learn how to grow up a little more
and just maybe begin laying down some roots.
Home is not the winding halls
of the university I still love,
or the classroom where I spend so many hours
to earn a living and hopefully make a difference.
Home isn’t found under a steeple, in a pew,
or even a friendly living room full of smiling faces
with a Bible in my lap.
Home is not my friends,
the ones who have stood by me for years,
or the ones who so graciously welcomed me
into a strange new land.
Home is not any loving community that I’ve found,
or any that I’m likely to find in a week,
or a month,
or a year.
If one day I find love
and build up a family in a house,
if I hold a wife close to me
or cherish the sweet laugh of a child,
even then the home I long for
will still be far from me.
Home will finally quench my deep desire
which nothing in this world can satisfy,
because, most probably,
I was made for another.
I don’t know what home will look like,
but I’ll see it when I go.
So, Fyodor Dostoyevsky argued that if there is no God then anything is permissible. Philosophers such as Friedrich Nietszche and Jean-Paul Sartre generally agree with his general premise, though, unlike Dostoyevsky (who concluded from this that there must be a God), they thus conclude that anything is permissible if one believes that it is right or necessary. However, other thinkers, such as Aristotle, argued that there is a moral reality to which man is beholden, regardless of whether any god exists, and some have argued that any god or gods are also beholden to this moral reality. David Hume argued that moral principles could not be drawn from observations of the natural world (i.e. an ought cannot be drawn from an is–also known as the is/ought problem or the naturalistic fallacy), but also concluded that while morality is thus subjective, it can still be universal because all men are driven by the same subjective passions–even if they do resist or bury them.
So, I’ve had you all write on the idea of moral realism, both theistic and philosophical, before. However, in today’s challenge I want you to imagine that Nietszche and Sartre are correct. There is no God, and because there is no God absolutely anything is (at least potentially) permissible. What would such a world look like? Why?
As always, answer the challenge in a story of 1000 words.
So, on Thursday I wrote a post on adding nuances to your world in order to increase the level and feeling of reality in your stories. I believe that this is important. Fiction should be rich, detailed, nuanced, and deep, and this is especially true of speculative fiction. However, there is a flip side to that coin: you are not perfect, and you’re world will not be perfectly detailed. Even modern fiction writers and non-fiction writers deal with this. As authors, we get things wrong. Understanding this and being able to deal with it is incredibly important, especially in the modern context. If you look up any popular movie recently (and many popular novels) you can find entire websites dedicated to explaining, in detail, every single flaw in the work. Youtube is currently filled with videos, often a hour or more long, explaining the many problems that ‘destroy’ Star Wars, The Avengers, Captain America, etc as movies, and you don’t have to look too hard to find the same kind of material for historical movies or movies about current events.
Now, what should strike us as odd is that most of these are created by fans of the movies/books in question. For instance, I have a group of friends who get together once every year or two to marathon the Lord of the Rings movies. Of course, they spend at least half the night bitching about everything that was done wrong and how Peter Jackson ‘ruined’ the franchise… which should lead us to ask why they are staying up all night to watch twelve hours of apparently horrible moves for the sixteenth time. Simply put, the modern world is most critical of what it loves the best. If you make a horrible movie that no one wants to watch, such as that terrible dragon/snake war movie that I can’t even remember the title of… it was probably something like ‘Dragon/Snake Wars,’ then chances are that there won’t be any videos on youtube tearing it apart.
So, the first thing you need to consider as an author is that any fan who is telling you everything that you did wrong in you’re novel is 1) way too invested in you’re writing, and 2) actually read your novel and will almost certainly read the next one. We’re specifically critical of the things that we love, but we’re generally critical of the things that we hate. For instance, Daredevil was a stupid movie: bad casting, bad acting, bad writing, bad fight scenes… the cinematography was okay I guess. I feel no need to go into any detail about what I am critical about in this example because I hated the entire movie. I actually avoided Batman vs Superman because they cast Ben Affleck as Batman… which was just a bad idea all around. From everything I’ve heard I didn’t miss anything. Again, notice that there was no specific criticism there?
Now, in the Lord of the Rings Movies it annoys me that the army of the dead are at Pellanor Fields and that there were no scenes with Tom Bombadil or the Barrow Wights in the first movie. In the Hobbit Movies I’m frustrated at the way the relationship between Gandalf and Galadriel is portrayed and the way they handled Radagast the Brown (maybe… at least the poop-face hat thing). Notice how my criticism was very specific here? That’s because I really liked the movies overall and actually have specific criticisms to make after watching them too many times. I don’t think that Peter Jackson ruined the franchise. Actually, I think he did an absolutely fantastic job with all six movies (and yes, I liked most of the stuff that was added into the Hobbit movies… except the elf-dwarf love triangle… that was weird). However, Peter Jackson wasn’t perfect and he didn’t make perfect movies.
When you’re dealing with fans you will have to remember that they are being specifically critical because they liked your work. They are fans, not rabid monsters out to destroy your sanity (though it can certainly feel that way sometimes). When you are being a fan, remember that whatever you’re talking about isn’t perfect because it wasn’t written, filmed, directed, acted, painted, etc by a perfect artist who made a flawless masterpiece. Of course there are plot holes, you signed on for that when you decided to read or watch a work of fiction (or non-fiction… in non-fiction we call them logical fallacies or factual errors). So, consider how you are coming across as a fan. If you are choosing to read a book or watch a movie for the umpteenth time then chances are that you really like it… do you come across that way?
So, Alayna and I saw Captain America: Civil War today, and I have to say that I was very impressed with the way the movie was handled. There was, of course, a suitable amount of action: car chases, fights, buildings being destroyed, etc. However, there was a well-developed plot that, while not exactly the story from the Marvel Civil War comic series, dealt with a number of the same major issues very well. In classical Greek tragedy the focal point of conflict it the collision of two equally real but mutually exclusive goods which inevitably ends in the destruction of one or both. This theme was a major part of the comic series and is a major part of the movie. Most everyone in the movie is actually trying to do the right thing, but they have radically different understandings of what the right thing actually is, and the film paints this extremely well. One of the deeper ethical issues that they handle with a good amount of tact and fairness is the issue of the relationship between volition, culpability, and responsibility. Let us assume that there is a murderer who is not in control of his actions: perhaps the individual is mentally deranged, brainwashed, in the midst of a night terror, etc. This individual kills several people, but does not actually choose to take any of the actions leading up to or including these killings. In the absence of volition but the presence of real suffering is the individual culpable for this suffering? Does he bear full guilt for the actions that were not in his control? Is he responsible in some way, but not in a way that implies legal or moral culpability and thus guilt? Is he freed of any and all responsibility because the actions were not his to meaningfully choose or reject? This is my challenge for you today.
As always, write a one thousand word story that presents your answer to the question. Also, watch the movie to see what their answer to the question was :).
Well, I’m sorry about not having a post up yesterday. I’m sorry to say that insomnia got the better of me on Thursday night and I spent most of Friday a little loopy. Then we had some guests with us yesterday (Alayna’s baby shower is tomorrow… the baby is almost here, which is both exciting and terrifying), and so I generally have had a lot of distractions lately. I don’t say any of this as an excuse (honestly I don’t think I need one), but simply to explain why there was no post yesterday and to introduce my point here: it’s easy to lose focus of where our priorities should be.
I’ve done this many times in my life. Honestly, when I first started this blog my priorities were very out of whack. In the beginning I wanted this blog to be very successful (and given how many followers we have I think there has been some success involved), and because of that I was extremely focused towards attaining that goal. For the first year I wrote all of the posts for the blog myself, a post a day for a year is a lot for anyone to write (and if you’ve ever tried you know what I mean). After that I started bringing some other writers on board, but I was draconian about timely posting. I almost lost a friend over whether or not she published her posts on time.
I had certain standards, and standards, or so I told myself, are a good thing. I had been told that consistency is very important for bringing in reader, and I stuck to that and focused on consistently providing material of an accessible, but also high quality. I wanted to make sure that everyone who wrote for me had the same focus. This is where my priorities were off-target. At the time, especially in the particular situation I’m thinking of, I should have considered my friend’s feelings and what this particular person was dealing with at the time. I didn’t. All I focused on was that posts weren’t going up when they ‘needed’ to, and that was simply unacceptable.
At that time this blog was one of the few good things going on in my life. Academically I had hit what seemed to be a dead end. I applied to a number of programs, only to be rejected by all of them, and I had struggled to find a teaching job, only to then struggle to make enough money at the teaching job I did find to pay basic bills. Romantically, I had one short and painful relationship after another, and was shot down by most of the women I asked out in between them. Financially I had a mountain of debt that I didn’t see any realistic way of paying off. Spiritually I was in the driest point of my relationship with God since I converted, and while that didn’t last for more than six months, they were an extremely difficult six months.
When I started this blog, I thought it would be my ticket out of all of that (God had different plans), and I approached it as one might approach a life-changing career goal. However, since that time I have seem some (limited) success in my teaching job, I have started and finished a second master’s degree, gotten married, been accepted into two Ph.D. programs (still deciding which one), and Alayna and I are expecting our first child.
I say all of this to say that priorities are important. When I first started this blog I put an inordinately high priority on it, and was willing to sacrifice friendships for it. However, I think that in the past few years God has done a good job of refocusing my priorities. We’ve missed more that we did early on, and there is less focus on originality, quality, images, and timing. Things about the blog that used to be hard and fast rules have become only suggestions.
Other pursuits (school and family mostly) have taken precedence for me, and most importantly, I’ve learned to have a softer touch when others miss things, and learned to let some of them go myself. Four years ago I never would have allowed myself to miss a post. In thinking about all of this, I keep coming back to priorities. I treated this blog as though it was something that it can never be: a meaning for life.
Have you done the same with anything? I have said here before, and I still believe, that writing is good for us. It is important, healthy, and ultimately beneficial both for ourselves and for others. Some of you will probably make a career out of writing fiction, others probably won’t even though you want to, and some of you haven’t even considered it as a possibility. However, do you ever give your writing (however important it is) an inappropriate place in your life? It’s something worth thinking about.
So, my plan was to take yesterday, today, and tomorrow to just relax. I’m in a transition period with classes, so I don’t have too many papers to grade (only about 30 this week, probably only 15 or so next week), and it seemed like the perfect time to get some rest. So, this morning Alayna and I went out to practice some spear techniques and wound up putting together the first half of a spear form. We were planning on relaxing all afternoon… that didn’t happen. Instead, my pastor called me and asked me if I could drive a very ill (long-term condition) Christian man to a city about an hour away and make sure that he got a hotel room and had some money for the next couple of days before he caught a flight home where he could be taken care of by close friends in his own church. So, I spent a good part of the afternoon doing that. Then we spent the evening with our niece and nephews at a local carnival, which was good… but not exactly relaxing.
When we finally got home, we relaxed for a little bit and then I sat down to write this post. You seem I am quite familiar with the lack of rest. We need rest–physical rest, emotional rest, intellectual rest, and spiritual rest. Alayna and I haven’t had much of any of these in the last few months. I’ve been an insomniac for most of my life, and so I can tell you exactly how a lack of physical rest affects me. I can function relatively well (70-80%) for about the first 40 hours without sleep. My function decreases progressively, but I can still be trusted to do most things (i.e. watch children, drive, do my job, etc) and I can do all of these things at a passable level. Once I hit 45-50 hours without sleep my function decreases again, this time to probably 40-55%. I can still do all of these things, but my driving is just the other side of what might be called safe, the decisions I make regarding the care of children may not be the wisest, and my comments on student papers may not make a lot of sense. Once I hit about 80 hours I stop being able to do any of my normal tasks passably well, and at around 90-95 hours I start hallucinating. By around 110 hours without sleep I’m nearly catatonic. I’ll be curled up on the bed, a sofa, or some corner of the floor muttering things that make no sense whatsoever. So, I can tell you from experience that physical rest is a necessity. However, other forms of rest are just as necessary.
We need time to relax emotionally, to feel safe, secure, and be able to shed stress and the many impacts that it has on us. Some authors have linked neuroses and even full-blown disorders such as OCD, ODD, or ADD/ADHD to stress (though they may or may not be correct in doing so, personally I believe that some disorders can certainly be worsened by stress, and that some examples of some disorders may be caused by stress, but I doubt that every example of any of the above disorders is caused by stress). So, times of emotional rest, relaxation, and stress free environments are very important for our ability to function normally. Similarly, we need play time. Now, I disagree with some who argue that we need time to turn our brains off and ‘veg,’ but we need time to engage our minds in significantly different ways. Play or ‘deep play’ can be a good example of emotional and intellectual rest in children. In many adults hobbies can serve the same function. While a child might spend three or four hours immersed in playing with G. I. Joes, an adult might spend that same time immersed in woodwork, miniature model painting, or playing a challenging game of some time. It is important to note that we don’t simply turn our brains off during such times, but we do alter their functioning to a point that they can rest from their normal duties. For instance, a laborer who spends all day figuring out how to solve complex logistical problems might come home and rest by engaging in stories and thinking about how those stories reflect the world. On the other hand, a scholar who reads all day and spends his time engaging in deep, critical thought might rest his mind by playing challenging games, solving puzzles, or engaging in stimulating creative hobbies. The point is that intellectual rest is not the same as just shutting down.
Spiritual rest is probably the most neglected and least understood of these four kinds of rest. Spiritual rest, for the Christian, is an important time of reconnection with, submission to, and reliance upon God. This can often be accomplished through prayer, bible study, or meditation, but the key is that we stop trying to do things ourselves and instead refocus and rely on God to be the sovereign lord of the universe. It is easy to engage in any of the above practices without engaging in any kind of spiritual rest. This happens when we come into these practices with the idea that we have certain expectations to uphold and that we need to manage them ourselves. This is not restful because the focus and the pressure are still on us. Instead, spiritual rest happens when we take time to spend with God simply in order to spend time with God and relax into him.
Hopefully, moving forward, Alayna and I will have some time to rest in all of the above forms. I think that we both deeply need it, and I’m guessing that some of you do as well.