Sugar and spice and puppy dog tails: part three

Children can be cruel to one another and even to themselves. Boys with feminine traits might be called “sissies,” while girls with masculine traits might be called “tomboys.” Sometimes these are temporary phases, part of childhood development. Sometimes they reveal characteristics that will remain part of an individual’s personality into adulthood. Most of the time, they are not related to an individual’s gender identity and sense of self. They might be teased or bullied at school because they are different from their peers, but even that experience is not as harmful as having adults overreact to those childhood tendencies, having those adults try to respond in a permanent way to behavior that is only a temporary part of being children.

This leads to discussion of a distinction made in my daughter’s nursing school materials, which is the distinction between gender identity and gender presentation. Some men enjoy dressing as women and acting as women, even though they still consider themselves men and are comfortable with their masculinity. Some women like to dress as men and act as men, even though they still consider themselves women and are comfortable with their femininity. For men, cross-dressing might have comic effect, as in Flip Wilson’s Geraldine character or the female characters portrayed by the male Monty Python cast. For women, dressing and acting like men might seem necessary in their professional lives, things they must do to be accepted among male coworkers. The Bible contains one brief prohibition of crossdressing (Deuteronomy 22:5), but Bible scholars are not in agreement about how that commandment applies to situations like those listed above.

The world is confused about gender and the various issues associated with gender. Since some expressions of gender vary from place to place and from time to time, even sincere Christians who are striving to live according to God’s commandments might be unsure about what is acceptable to God and what is prohibited by God. Several considerations should be kept in mind as Christians struggle to steer through the foggy paths of gender-related issues in the contemporary world.

  • Just because something can be done, we should not conclude that it should be done. This applies to gender-changing therapy, including hormone treatment and surgery, as well as counseling that might direct a person towards those changes. Except in those rare cases in which human gender is ambiguous in an individual’s chromosomes, the better path is encouraging children and adults to adjust their gender identity to match their biological gender.
  • Children especially need role models that help them understand and define masculinity and femininity. Boys need to be steered away from “toxic masculinity,” inasmuch as that label describes inconsiderate and abusive attitudes and behavior towards other people. Boys also need to be guided away from portrayals of weak masculinity, including the bumbling fathers that appear in much family-oriented entertainment from the past seventy years. Girls likewise need to be shown examples of femininity that are confident, competent, and compassionate, neither defenseless victims of abuse nor militant opponents of men.
  • Children need to be taught to accept differences rather than teasing, bullying, and abusing peers who are different. This includes acceptance of different appearances, languages, and cultures; it also includes respect for varying temperaments among their peers. Children do not need to be informed about adult sexuality or about divergences in adult behavior while they are young. Rather, they should be taught that all people are to be treated with kindness and consideration, even when those people are different in any way.
  • Sexuality ought to remain a private and personal matter. Christians will not be able to demand a Biblical model of relationships and family life be imposed on their nonChristian neighbors. At the same time, it should be possible to live as neighbors, to cooperate at the workplace, and to share public spaces without discussing gender-related issues, especially gender preferences. Public facilities may find it helpful to create more single-use restrooms in order to avoid controversies about inappropriate sharing of such facilities. In general, though, it should be possible for most people to live a normal day without being confronted by controversies about gender confusion that exist in the contemporary world. J.

Sugar and spice and puppy dog tails: part two of three

The world around us—the scientific world, the world of medical professionals—has become confused about gender and about gender-related issues. At one time, attraction of one man to another or of one woman to another was condemned as sinful and as shameful. Then such attractions were classified as a form of medical illness. Then they were classified as inborn tendencies, not subject to choice and not blamable as sin. People were told to accept one another without judgment, even to think that God created people with those tendencies. Meanwhile, professionals debated the extent to which same-sex attraction is genetic and the extent to which it is formed by childhood influences. Regardless of the conclusion, professionals generally asserted that such preferences are part of a person’s identity. They say that it is harmful and wrong to try in any way to change a person’s preferences or to show any disapproval of those preferences.

Meanwhile, the same professionals have found ways to change a person’s biological gender through a combination of surgeries and hormone therapies. This permits those professionals to claim that a person’s gender identity might be different from that of his or her biological sex. At the same time that they warn us not to challenge a person’s preferences, they demand that we respect their gender identity to the point that we acknowledge their right to undergo expensive medical treatment to change the gender of their bodies. (And in some cases they would have the cost of that treatment shared by all of us in this culture through insurance plans and even through government subsidies taken from taxes that we all pay.)

The irony, in case you missed it, is that scientists are now saying that each human contains elements not detectable by science, elements pertaining to gender identity, that are more important than the information science gathers about a person’s gender and identity through scientific methods—that is, by examining the shape of the body or studying the chromosomes found in each cell of the body. After centuries of denying the existence of a human soul, science has rediscovered the soul and insists that physical reality must sometimes be altered to match the identity of the soul and to preserve the health of the soul. Science insists upon the importance of this new discovery without asking any questions of those organizations in the world that have always said that there is a soul and that always have insisted that physical reality, as detected by science, was of secondary importance when compared to that of the soul.

The scientists and medical professionals may want to consult experts with greater training and understanding regarding matters of the soul. As one of those experts, I would tell them that the Creator who fashions both body and soul would not accidently place a male soul into a female body or place a female soul into a male body. Granted, in certain rare birth defects (once called “hermaphrodite” but now called “intersex”) biological distinctions are unclear and medical intervention is helpful to provide a gender identity. In the vast majority of cases, though, the biological sex is clearly indicated at birth. If, in the years after birth, an individual expresses confusion about his or her gender identity, helping that individual explore and understand the meaning of masculinity and femininity is healthier, more productive, and less expensive than inviting the individual to choose a gender and then providing medical intervention to make that person’s body conform to that identity.

Most children and adolescents are confused about many aspects of their identity, including gender. They receive mixed messages from society, from their peers, from their family, and from their own feelings. They may be curious about how the other sex feels. A boy with nurturing feelings toward others or a girl with ambitions to lead may conclude that they were born in the wrong body. Such children would be helped if the adults in their lives, instead of allowing them to doubt and question their identity, would assure them that all people have some qualities generally called masculine and other qualities generally called feminine. Some men lead successful masculine lives while maintaining nurturing attitudes that might be considered feminine. Some women become inspiring leaders without surgery that turns them into men. Moreover, gender stereotypes change from place to place and from time to time. Decisions about personal appearance that seem traditionally feminine—in matters of hair, makeup, jewelry, and clothing—were all very masculine in Europe a few centuries ago. Even the Bible does not reinforce all gender stereotypes that are considered “normal” today. Godly men cry, while the ideal wife of Proverbs 31 is involved in business and financial dealings. J.

Sugar and spice and puppy dog tails: part one of three

Last month I got to spend a few days with family. One evening at the dinner table, my grandniece (who is eight years old) began reciting the famous saying about what little girls are made of and what little boys are made of. I don’t know where she learned that old-fashioned rhyme—I’m sure it wasn’t in public school or at the public library. I bit my tongue to avoid saying, in the presence of children, that the poem must have a lot of additional verses now that we are living in the twenty-first century.

More than ten years ago, my very liberal friend said in an off-handed way that “we now know” there are more than two genders. At the time I made no response, figuring that this was just one of the very liberal things he liked to say, trying to shock the rest of us. But one of my daughters, who is in nursing school, has been required to learn and remember all the categories of gender that medical professionals now recognize. While I did not want to know this information and deliberately chose not to research such matters, it helps those of us who live in the twenty-first century to know what some of the confused people near and around us are saying about gender.

So, according to my daughter’s classes, gender can be divided into four categories: the biological category seen at birth in the body’s organs (and also present in the chromosomes that exist in every cell in the body), the category of identity, the category of presentation, and the category of preference.

The Bible indicates that God created people male and female, both in his likeness and image. It also suggests that God’s intention was a partnership of marriage consisting of one man and one woman. The only exception specifically endorsed by the Bible is that of the solitary life (Matthew 19:10-12). In fact, in several places the Bible addresses the attraction of men to men and that of women to women, always equating that attraction to sin and rebellion. The teaching is slightly muddled by reports of godly men (Jacob, David, and Solomon, among others) having more than one wife; but the overall pattern of one man plus one woman making a marriage persists through the Bible. This arrangement is chosen by God to depict his love for his people, making an attack upon marriage equivalent to an attack upon God’s love as well.

While Jesus insisted that God’s perfect plan is that a man and a woman are united as “one flesh” and that no one should divide them, he also acknowledged that (in a sinful world) divorce sometimes happens and must be permitted even under God’s Law. Different Christian communities have applied that teaching in different ways, but most teach that abuse or abandonment by one partner permits the other partner to seek a legal divorce without sin, asking worldly authorities to certify that the marriage has already been broken by the sin of the partner. In recent times, application of this teaching has been lax, allowing some partners to obtain a “no-fault divorce” and to marry new partners without any discussion of the reality of sin, the need for repentance, and the importance of forgiveness. So-called “serial monogamy” is as much against God’s will as any other violation of God’s definition of marriage. The standards of Jesus are remarkably high in this regard, as he identifies even fantasies about unfaithfulness as adultery (Matthew 5:28). We cannot blame the world around us for being confused about marriage—and about gender issues as a whole—when the Church cannot be consistent about when God permits sin and when God condemns sin, when God forgives sin and when God hardens the hearts of sinners, when God loves and accepts sinners and when God turns his back on sinners.

One famous episode in the Bible is recorded in John chapter eight. Jesus was in Jerusalem, and the local authorities brought to him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They wanted to know if Jesus would condemn and punish her sin or if he would accept her and forgive her in spite of her sin. Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” One by one, her accusers left, until only Jesus and the sinful woman remained. Jesus asked if no one was left to condemn her. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said to the woman. “Go, and sin no more.” The Bible says nothing about the woman’s partner in her sinful act of adultery. In my opinion, had that woman’s partner been another woman, Jesus would have said the same words. He would have shared his forgiveness; he would also have told her not to repeat her sin. J.

One hour at the bank

A few days ago I visited the bank. You were probably there as well. In fact, it seemed as though half the world was at the bank at the same time, although it couldn’t have been half the world. To be bluntly literal about the visit, a dozen people were standing in line when I arrived, and a dozen people were in line waiting when I left. So I only saw two dozen customers standing in line at the bank. When, when you are waiting to be served, a dozen people seems like a lot of people.

These customers were a diverse group of people. Some were male and others were female; beyond that, I did not inquire about gender identities. I figured it was none of my business. One boy was seven years old; I know this because another man asked him his age, and I heard his answer. The man in front of me was probably around eighty years old. He was tall, slender, white haired, with good posture, and he wore a cap that said “Disfunctional Veteran,” which I thought was cute. One man in line resembled
Willie Nelson. He had the long hair worn in a pony tail, the beard, the casual clothing, and even the raspy voice which probably came from years of tobacco and bourbon. Some of us were white, others were black, and others were Hispanic. I don’t remember now if anyone in line was of east Asian heritage, but I know that I have seen such people at the bank on other occasions.

Banks increasingly want people to use their online services. These services were advertised prominently in the bank lobby. Probably for this reason, the bank had only two tellers serving customers, although other bank employees were also in the building. I do most of my banking online. My employers deposit my pay directly into my checking account, and using my computer I send money automatically to pay most of my bills. I have become accustomed to using a credit card instead of cash for groceries, gasoline, restaurant meals, and other purchases. But one of my employers writes me a check every week, and I like to have some cash in my wallet for certain purchases. I visit the bank once most weeks, although occasionally I will skip a week and bring two checks to the bank the following week.

Sometimes a banker will speak with people standing in line to ask what they want to do. If they are depositing a check and do not want money back, he can deal with them electronically. It takes him longer to do this with his little machine than it takes the tellers, but if several people are in line, using his services still saves time. While I was there, he was able to help one customer in this way. He then found another woman who only wanted to deposit a check, and began helping her. I figured he would get to me next. I could use his services to deposit my check and then be on my way. Things did not turn out that way.

Often people who visit the bank in person have complicated financial matters to resolve. They may have lost their credit or debit card, or they might have a check to cash but they are not customers of the bank. They might want to challenge a charge that has appeared on their account. Some have money to deposit from a business, and others have money to disperse through a business. Some customers are merely befuddled by the banking business. They may be elderly, or they may be native to a different culture. We all stood in line, waiting our turn. Many stood quietly, saying nothing. Others tried to engage in conversation with those standing near them. Some complained about the length of their wait. Willie Nelson in particular complained about the time he was standing in line, repeatedly assuring us that he was going to change banks in the very near future.

Another man who had been complaining about how long he was waiting reached the front of the line and began speaking with the teller. He soon realized that he had left some needed papers in his car. He first sent his seven-year-old son out to the car to find the missing papers. When the son returned without those papers, another customer jumped out of line to help. He was able to retrieve the missing papers. Willie Nelson got to the front of the line, and it turned out that his check could not be cashed because it was dated for the following day. After several complaints (including the fact that he was going to change banks), he left. The man who jumped out of line to help another customer reached the front of the line and complained to the teller that this was taking so long. His transaction also entailed complications, which ended up requiring the help of another banker. He told her also that he had been in line for an hour. “We appreciate you spending your time with us,” she replied with a smile. Several of us behind him in line exchanged grins at her retort.

Willie Nelson returned after making a telephone call from outside the bank. Somehow, he had gotten approval for his transaction over the phone. He went straight to the teller—interrupting the helpful customer who had been waiting for an hour—and was quickly given the help he had requested. Meanwhile, the woman who had only wanted to deposit a check was returned to the front of the line. The banker with the little machine had been unable to process her transaction. When she was put in front of us (right after Willie Nelson had returned and gotten immediate help), the disfunctional veteran standing in front of me gave up and left the bank.

All this happened on the Thursday after Memorial Day. I never go to the bank on Mondays; Mondays are their busiest day. When they are closed on Monday (as they were for Memorial Day), I do not visit on Tuesday. Wednesday I had planned to stop at the bank, but a traffic tie-up in front of the bank, complete with a police car with flashing lights, had kept me from entering. So I was there on a Thursday, with half the rest of the world also standing in line with me.

Like many of the other customers—including Willie Nelson—I asked myself why I was there. Why couldn’t the deposit of that check have waited until the next week? My answer to myself was that I was there to observe people. I was watching them, listening to them, learning about people from them. I knew that I would write about this visit to the bank. I might not earn twenty dollars for writing a thousand word essay about my visit to the bank, but my practice in observing and remembering and writing remains part of my identity as a writer. Other people lost their temper. I remained calm, assuring myself that the hour was well-spent, confident that these sixty minutes would somehow contribute to my full and complete and meaningful life.

And now you have benefited from my hour at the bank. J.

A six-point plan to end the Russia-Ukraine war

An impasse continues to develop in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, they hoped for a quick victory. Their best-case scenario had Russian troops occupying the entire country, arresting Volodymyr Zelensky and the rest of the Ukrainian government, and asserting their ability to dictate policy to their neighbors, especially those neighbors that once were part of the Soviet Union. An acceptable scenario featured destruction of the Ukrainian military and the national infrastructure, firm control of the eastern provinces, and a negotiated settlement that would again have asserted control in the internal affairs of their neighbors. Putin’s Russia did not expect the vigorous resistance of Ukraine, its ability to withstand the Russian offensive, its support from many other nations in Europe as well as from the United States, and the surprising failure of the Russian army to achieve its objectives.

Meanwhile, a best-case scenario for Ukraine would be removal of the Russian military presence from all of Ukraine, including the Crimean peninsula, unanimous condemnation of Russia’s invasion around the world, and international assistance to rebuild the war-damaged structure of Ukraine. Zelensky could perhaps accept Russian withdrawal to the borders that were recognized as of January 1 of this year and some assistance in rebuilding his country.

The Russian government and military have been embarrassed in Ukraine, and as a consequence, they will not accept total defeat. They want something to show for the lives, the equipment, the money, and the time they have spent on this war. Ukrainian resistance has been remarkable, noble, and inspiring to date, but they cannot hope to continue to defeat the Russians week after week and month after month. Even as they are reequipped by NATO governments, they are not receiving additional soldiers to replace those who have been killed, injured, or captured in the conflict. Unless a Russian miscalculation expands the fighting into Poland or some other neighboring country, the Ukrainian army will not be able to maintain its resistance to the Russian invasion. Russia can continue sending additional soldiers into the fight; Ukraine cannot match Russia in that regard.

Ending a conflict like this war requires compromise on both sides. As much as people want to criticize Russia’s invasion and condemn its actions, the fight will not end well for Ukraine without some sort of concession to Russian power. I suggest a resolution to the war, one that may satisfy both sides in the conflict and also be acceptable to the rest of the world.

First, both sides agree to an immediate cease-fire.

Second, effective July 1, 2022, the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and the Crimea are each declared to be semi-autonomous states, given five years to exist apart from direct control of Russia or of Ukraine. The borders of these regions are defined by the boundaries between Russian troops and Ukrainian troops as of the cease fire. Russia withdraws its military personnel and equipment from those areas, and Ukraine agrees not to enter those areas militarily.

Third, during the next five years, the government of Russia (and any other government that so wishes) helps to rebuild the war-ravaged territory within those three regions. The government of Ukraine (and any other government that so wishes) does the same rebuilding in Ukraine. Economic agreements are negotiated and followed according to the desires of the world’s nations. Members of NATO and other supporters of Ukraine are free to continue economic punishment of Russia for the invasion. They also are free, if they wish, to release Russian property seized during the conflict to the Ukrainian government to help rebuild Ukraine.

Fourth, refugees from Ukraine, including those from the three contested (and, for five years, semiautonomous) regions, are allowed to return to their home cities and villages. Russia is help accountable for the Ukrainian citizens that were displaced into Russia during the conflict. Following their return, citizens of Ukraine and of the three semiautonomous regions have freedom to relocate, to cross borders, and to make their homes wherever they choose to live, provided they are accepted by the populations among whom they choose to live.

Fifth, in June 2027 (five years from now), an election is held in each of the semiautonomous regions. The voters in each region are asked whether they want their homeland to be part of Ukraine or to be under Russian protection and control. Voting privileges are restricted to voters who lived in the three contested regions as of January 1, 2022; neither Russia nor any other government will be allowed to sway the elections of 2027 by relocating new families into those regions.

Sixth, during the five-year period of semiautonomous status, peace-keeping forces from the United Nations will patrol the three contested regions, preventing fights among the diverse populations within each region and discouraging invasion of the regions from outside forces (including, but not limited to, Russia and Ukraine). The United Nations will also oversee the elections of June 2027 to ensure that no outside government (including, but not limited to, Russia and Ukraine) interferes with those elections.

This six-part proposal allows Russia to save face over its failed invasion, but it also provides justice in the long term for Ukraine. An immediate vote in those regions would be neither practical nor reliable; given five years to recover and rebuild, the people living in those regions will be able to weigh the benefits and costs of both options—of returning to full membership in Ukraine or of existing under Russian control. Meanwhile, the killing stops, the destruction of property stops, the disruption of farming and manufacture and exportation of goods stops, and the international economy is somewhat stabilized for the time being.

The other benefit of this five-year waiting period is hope that Russia’s government and its perspective on its place in the world change for the better, beginning at the top of Russia’s political pyramid. One hopes that, having learned his lesson, Putin will not consider invading any other neighbor. Given his age and rumors of his ill health, Putin might not even be around five years from now to cause problems when the elections are held in June 2027. For that, we will have to wait and see. J.

He’s back!!

Yes, I’m back on WordPress. No explanations, no excuses, no reasons to offer for my absence this spring. I’ve been away, and now I’m back, and I have things to say: about Memorial Day, about the war in Ukraine, about guns in America, and about a smoldering wick.

This month I managed to combine several past posts into a book which is available on Amazon for six dollars and on Kindle for three dollars. Called Liberty and Justice Without Socialism, this book makes the case for supporting the free market economy—capitalism with some government regulation—and for rejecting proposals to embrace socialism. I will be distributing a few free copies to Republican leaders and politicians in my state, hoping that they (or the members of their staffs) will find useful facts, background information, and perspectives for their campaigns, their leadership, and their conversations with other citizens.

I have an embarrassing wealth of ideas for further publications. Some are well underway: the posts I published about history (enough already to be a book) and those I published about philosophy (maybe the first third to half of a book), as well as thoughts about Christian discipleship and sanctification, Christ’s miracles, Christ as seen in the book of Proverbs, and the true meaning of love. I even have thoughts about a sequel to my novella, To Keep a Promise, in which the young pastor must counsel a man and a woman who plan to divorce their current spouses so they can marry each other. I have many more ideas about what to write, but not nearly enough time to write. I can already envision myself retired from my job, with time each day to write and then to edit my work… but I will have to work another ten years or more before I have enough money saved for my retirement. That would change, of course, with a sudden windfall of income—perhaps a winning lottery ticket (but first I would have to buy a lottery ticket), or perhaps sudden interest in one of my books….

Anyhow, I’m still here, and I still have much to say. J.

Our senses and our world, part one

We experience the world around us through our senses. Traditionally, we are attributed with five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Taste and smell are similar enough in nature that they often are lumped together as one sense. At the same time, modern physiologists speak of other senses which we possess, such as the sense of balance. These additional senses tell us about our own body rather than about the outside world, so we can set those aside as we explore philosophy.

Still other people mention additional senses or sense-like perceptions. They suggest that we gather information about the world in ways that transcend the usual five senses. They speak of a sixth sense or of Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP). unfortunately, scientific investigation into those additional senses usually reveals either fraud or mere coincidence. Much of what we attribute to a sixth sense comes more from information acquired through the five senses and from rational (if often less than conscious) consideration of that information gathered in the present or remembered from the past.

So we are left with sight, hearing, touch, and taste-and-smell. Each of those involves input from the world beyond our bodies. Sight involves light, perceived by our eyes and reported to our brains. Hearing involves sound, perceived by our ears and reported to our brains. Touch involves contact with our skin, perceived by nerve-endings in our skin and reported to our brains. Taste and smell involve small particles that reach receptors in our mouths and noses that report to our brains what they perceive. In all these cases, our brains receive this information, evaluate its importance, and generate a response—ranging from ignoring the information to enjoying the experience, remembering the source of the stimulus so it can be repeated or avoided, or even rushing to flee from the cause of the stimulus.

Over the centuries, philosophers meditated on sight and discussed its significance. They pondered whether a color—white, for example, or red—was an essential part of an object or merely a characteristic of an object. They asked whether a color, such as white or red, can exist apart from an object. (Is the idea of whiteness real, or is it merely a label applied to all objects that have the characteristic of being white?) They debated how colors are perceived by our minds, and they asked whether we all see the same thing when we look at an object.

Modern scientists tell us that light comes in various wavelengths. Whiteness is a combination of wavelengths, which scientists demonstrate by shining white light through a prism, which breaks the light into the colors of the rainbow. Red and orange and other colors are distinct wavelengths of light. We see light emitted by some objects—the sun, of course, and flames, and wires or bulbs of light that glow due to electric current. Other objects reflect light. If the source of the light is red, the objects that reflect that red light will all look red. But white light shining on objects will have some wavelengths absorbed by the object and others reflected. As a consequence, when white light shines, we will see red objects and green objects and blue objects and many other colors as well.

Certain trees and other broad-leafed plants change color. In the spring and summer, they have green leaves. That green is caused by chlorophyl, which absorbs other wavelengths of light but reflects green light. In autumn, plants stop producing chlorophyl, and other chemicals in the leaves reflect other wavelengths of light—red, orange, yellow, or brown. Those leaves then fall off the plants and die, and in the spring new leaves are produced to replace them. We see different colors of leaves at different times of the year because of different chemicals in the leaves which reflect different wavelengths of light.

Arguably, an object in the dark has no color, because it is reflecting no light. An apple or tomato in the drawer of a closed refrigerator has the potential to be red, but it is not red when it is in the dark. (Yes, I know that apples and tomatoes last longer when they are not refrigerated, but the example is still valid.) Open the door of the refrigerator, let light shine on the apple or tomato, and they are red. They do not lose their ability to be red by being in the dark. But potential color is real color only when light is reflected by an object.

We see more than color. We also see shapes and sizes and other qualities of the objects within our view. Our brains are adept at interpreting what we see, even when what we see is a distortion of what is really there. This fact has caused some philosophers to wrestle almost endlessly with the relationship between sight and reality. For example, in the center of my reading room is a square table. Only by standing directly over it and looking down at it do I really see a square. From my favorite chair, or from the doorway, the table would not seem to be square. A photograph or painting from either perspective would contain a tabletop with four sides, but those four sides would not form a square. Yet not only do I recognize that the table is square from every other perspective; a visitor to my house, looking from the doorway into the reading room, would recognize that the table is square. Partly because we have two eyes (which provides some perception of depth) but more because our brains are effective at interpreting what our eyes report, we see the true shape of objects even when our perspective should distort the shape of those objects.

In the same way, I know that the person standing next to me is much shorter than a distant tree, even though the tree occupies much less of my field of vision than the nearer person. Our brains have awareness of depth perception and of the fact that distant objects are bigger than they appear. Therefore, our brains are fooled only when we cannot know either the size or distance of an object. Ancient philosophers and scientists thought that the sun was both smaller and nearer than it really is, because at the time they had no way of measuring its true size or its true distance. In most cases, though, people are able to estimate the size of seen objects accurately because of knowledge and experience of the world and of the way it works.

Yet our eyes can be fooled. A spoon in a glass of water appears to be bent because of the difference between the way light flows through water and through air. Distracted and preoccupied, our minds sometimes miss sights that our eyes have recorded or wrongly interpret what they eyes report. And, naturally, we cannot see things when something else is in the way—we cannot see the apple in the refrigerator when the refrigerator door is closed. Our experience of the world, as gained through sight, remains limited.

And we do not always see what other people see. In 2015, a woman photographed a dress in a store and sent the digital photograph to her daughter. The dress was blue and black, but when the daughter saw the photograph, she thought she was looking at a photograph of a white and gold dress. Over the following months, millions of people saw the same photograph. Even looking at the same photograph on the same device at the same time, some saw a blue and black dress, while others saw a white and gold dress. Our minds process information received from the eyes in a variety of ways, drawing clues about color and shape and size from many past experiences and impressions. Living in the same world, we do not always experience the same thing. Reality does not change from person to person—the real dress was blue and black. But perception and interpretation can lead to differences, sometimes such significant differences that we appear to be living in different worlds. J.

Summing up: philosophy so far

Since the start of the new year, I have begun an exploration of philosophy, possibly the framework of a book that I someday will complete and publish. For those who have joined the adventure late or who have missed some of the installments of this work, here is a table of contents linked to the posts in question thus far:

Where am I going from here? The natural next step after metaphysics is called, technically, epistemology, the effort to determine how we know the things that we know. From there, I hope to look at time (considering information as old as the Bible as well as sources as new as Stephen Hawking’s work); next, I will look at life. Eventually I expect to reach the topics of ethics and aesthetics. My goal, though, is to move carefully and gently, not rushing from one topic to the next. As always, I invite questions and responses, suggestions, and conversations about the thoughts I am exploring.

Meanwhile, I have left my journey through history half-way through the Second World War. I hope to wrap up that war this weekend, cover the Cold War in about three posts, and then look at the thirty years since the end of the Cold War in two or three posts. (Yes…the Cold War has been over for thirty years. Doesn’t that come as a surprise?) Who knows? By the time I have written that much, there might be even more history to discuss and debate.

From time to time, I will surely create additional posts on matters other than history and philosophy. Several possibilities are brewing, including the creation of a new Civil Liberties Union meant to defend and preserve those human rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. I might report upon some of the books I am reading. And there’s always the weather to discuss, when it’s in season. J.

The tenth day of Christmas

On this tenth day of Christmas, I realize that I have taken most of the Christmas season off from blogging… which was probably healthy, even though not a deliberate decision. Having entered a new year, I believe that it is time to move forward, to consider where I have been and where I am going, and to make plans in hope and in optimistic Christmas spirit.

We had a lot of family time together for Christmas, which was good… although I also found it necessary to retreat from the crowd and regather my energy. One of my gifts was a splendid commentary on the book of Daniel, and I have already read more than half of it. Other books were also under the tree, plus I invested some of my gift money in books which are on their way to my house. I was asked a second time last month to speak at a funeral. The funeral took place on December 31, so I used the opportunity to talk about last days and about our Christian hope as we live in the last days and look forward to the new creation.

The last several months I have been writing essays on history, drawing upon lectures I delivered in the college classroom when I was still a college instructor, before COVID hit. I probably have about ten to twelve more of those to write, and I hope to produce one a week for the next three months or so.

Meanwhile, as I have been reading through my philosophy library the past couple of years and have finally reached the twentieth century, I have been developing ideas for a book about philosophy. My thought is that this book will contain some characters and plot and drama—a student working on a doctorate in philosophy while working part-time in a store, a bungled hold-up involving a shooting, then time for recovery, followed by a trial. This plot will introduce opportunities to examine truth—truth as seen from different points of view, and the effort to discover a genuine truth behind those perspectives. But what I will write and post first will be some comments about philosophy that (I hope) will become narrative and conversation in the book, as the main character explains why he is studying philosophy and how it applies to “real” life. My goal is to produce one post a week for this project, and we will see how it goes.

Aside from that, posts will come as they come. They might reflect current events, weather, holidays, or life in general, as the mood strikes me. If I continue taking a break from time to time (as I did in 2021), that will mean that I am busy with other things.

I wish each of you the richest blessings in this new year. May it bring us joy and peace and reasons for hope. J.

The clam in the middle of the storm

I have been absent from WordPress for several days, not because of a deliberate social media fast (a practice which meets with my approval), but simply because of the business of the season. In addition to the usual Advent and Christmas activities, some extra events have also been occupying my time. For one thing, I will be speaking this week at the funeral of a long-time church member; she asked me some months ago to speak at her funeral, and I promised to do so, neither of us knowing at the time that this would happen during the latter part of the Advent season. When her son called to let me know she had died and to repeat the request on behalf of the family, his words were tangled (as happens to most of us at stressful times). He wanted to say that the family would be honored to have me speak, but he kept saying instead that it would be an honor for me to speak at his mother’s funeral. Which it is, in fact, but I know what he was trying to say.

Last February, in the midst of a record-breaking spell of winter weather, two of my daughters moved into a new apartment. Most things have gone well for them in their new place, but this month they began finding that water was leaking into their apartment, soaking the carpeting and pooling on the harder floors. The apartment management sent repair specialists to find and fix the leak, but in a larger building with several units that task is harder than it is in a single-family house. As a result, we have been housing refugees this month—three cats and a dog, although the dog was only here part of the time. The dog managed to complicate matters, though, by breaking through a window because a neighbor of my daughters was walking his dog; this meant that my daughter’s dog needed time at a veterinary clinic, resulting in family being out on the road in the midst of several, tornado-bearing thunderstorms Friday night. All went well for my family, though, and we pray for those who suffered greater losses in those terrible storms.

Christmas decorations are going up in and around the house, although we seem to have more electrical problems than usual this year. The blue lights we string across the front of the house had segments that would not light. I suspect that many households that use this kind of decoration buy new strings of bulbs every year and do not try to store them and reuse them as we do. Then we had similar problems with the lights for the Christmas tree indoors. I was able to get one of three dysfunctional strings working. Another has a segment that will not light but is bundled together and hidden on the back side of the tree. The third one that refuses to work is being kept as a source for replacement bulbs, as a fair number of bulbs are burnt out. I assure them that I can relate. I shopped online for replacement bulbs, but they are hard to find; the only ones available include the bulb but no socket, meaning that replacement involves threading the tiny wires of the new bulb through the old socket. Cannibalizing the extra string clearly is the better choice.

And I have messages to prepare for other audiences, which is why WordPress sinks lower on my list of priorities. I was reading one message this weekend before sharing it and discovered a typo that Word’s spellcheck failed to notice. Speaking about the Biblical encouragement to rejoice (and I say it again: Rejoice!—Philippians 4:4), I described how that word seems sometimes like a commandment, like the commandment not to be anxious. Both these messages, I said, are promises and not commandments. We should not put extra pressure on ourselves, trying to rejoice, trying not to worry. Instead, we understand that Jesus has already fixed our problems. For that reason, we rejoice and do not worry. Speaking of the “peace at the center” that comes from having Christ at the center (of our lives and of our holiday observances), I wrote about the clam in the middle of the storm. There is potential for a great message based around that picture, but I haven’t had time to write that message; I simply changed the word “clam” back to “calm.”

As time permits, I hope to finish my series of world history posts, wrapping up the Victorian Age and carrying through the twentieth century—World Wars, the Great Depression, post-modernism, and globalization. But I have already created an outline for yet another book, one which will focus on philosophy, especially questions about truth and how we know what is true. Among other things, this book will acknowledge the possibility (popularized in the Matrix movies) that we are living in a simulated world and not in reality. Given current scientific understandings of general relativity, subatomic physics, quantum mechanics, and the nature of time, the simulation theory is not far-fetched; moreover, it may mesh nicely with a creationist, young-earth perspective. But that writing will not appear until next month.

Blessings to each of you in your Advent observances. J.