Thursday, June 29, 2017

Master Coenred


Then the great old, young, beautiful princess turned to Curdie.

“Now, Curdie, are you ready?” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” answered Curdie.

“You do not know what for.”

“You do, Ma’am. That is enough.” 
George MacDonald ~ The Princess and Curdie

“Look, Skandar!” Amalia said. “It’s a sunny day. That means we can go visit Master Coenred and his blacksmith.”

“Who is Master Coenred,” asked Skandar, “and what does he have to do with a sunny day?”

“Master Coenred is a magnificent rooster. He is amazingly tall and thin, with a sweeping black plume for a tail and a red comb. His feathers are bluish-black, laced with a sort of dark orange color, like the sunset. Egric is his blacksmith.”

“What do you mean ‘his blacksmith’? How can a rooster own a blacksmith?”

“I’m not entirely sure of the arrangement, having never read the contract,” said Amalia, “but Egric has assured me on more than one occasion that he belongs to Master Coenred.”

When they arrived at the blacksmith’s workshop, Amalia introduced Skandar to Egric and Master Coenred. The latter was indeed a notable rooster. Egric assured Amalia and Skandar that Master Coenred was pleased by their visit.

“Is it because it’s a sunny day?” asked Skandar.

“Yes, it is,” said Egric. “Sunny days are the only days Master Coenred doesn’t crow so he catches a few more winks of sleep. It makes him more sociable, if you know what I mean.”

“Why doesn’t he crow on sunny days?” asked Skandar.

“Well, the truth is Master Coenred fancies himself a better blacksmith than me, and it smokes his toast for me to do anything at the forge without his supervision. He doesn’t crow on sunny days because he doesn’t want to wake me. Since I fancy a few more winks of sleep myself, I go along with him.”

“That means he only crows on cloudy days,” said Amalia.

“But what about people that don’t want to sleep late?” said Skandar. “When we walked through the village this morning, there were all sorts of people out and about. Who wakes them up?”

“If it’s a sunny day, then the sun does the job,” said Egric. “Master Coenred doesn’t want to supervise everybody; he has enough to do managing my life. It’s only on cloudy days, that he gives them a little extra help. Otherwise, he assumes anyone with an ounce of wit can determine that the sun is up, and the day has begun.”

“Master Coenred is a very strict about interfering in anyone’s life—except Egric’s, of course,” said Amalia. “He’s really a rather remarkable bird.”

“I’ll say,” said Skandar. “He could give lessons to people on when and where to crow, especially on sunny days.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

I, The People

“Aunt,” Amalia asked, “why are we so ignorant?”

Beatrice paused in her work and looked at her niece.

“Well, now,” she said, “that is a rather unexpected question. Before I attempt an answer, please tell me who is ‘we’ and why is ‘we’ ignorant?”

Amalia waved her hands in a circle.

“We, all of us—me, you, Uncle Hosten, Father, Mother, Aunt Beryl, Lammett, Finn—you know, all of us.”
The Book of Rhino

Amalia’s reasoning is an example of taking something that is local and making it global. I have observed that this phenomenon occurs frequently among humans. It is inductive reasoning taken to the extreme.

“I think, therefore, I am—and so does everybody else.”
The globalization of a local issue is done by the pernicious use of the word “we.”

“We all make mistakes.”

“We are none of us perfect.”

“We are poor little lambs who have lost our way. Baa, baa, bah.”

It’s as if a local mistake, defect, or character flaw must not be confined to one person. It must be expanded to include everybody. I suppose some things are too painful to bear alone, so people drag others into that lonely place by the word “we.”

The ubiquitous use of the word “we” is especially evident in politics where things are done because we, the American people, want it. Well, I am an American people and do not want a lot of things that I’m told I do. The current debate on health care is a classic example of local gone global.

The phrase “the America people” is invoked like a religious mantra. It used to justify most legislation, whether it's good or bad. What is ironic is that when global legislation is dissected, it turns out to be local after all, written for the benefit of a select group of people. The majority of “we, the people” are shunted aside, their collective name having served its purpose.

I do not know what anyone else thinks about it, but I (local) do not like being used in a collective “we” (global) without my permission. Whenever I hear or read that “we” think, feel, or act in a certain way, my “I” stands up in defiance. I refuse to be a “we” unless my “I” makes that choice.

When I was in junior high, I read the novel Anthem by Ayn Rand. The main character, Equality, resonated with me, and when he discovered his “I”, I cheered. I still do. But that’s just little, local me. But I do wonder of there are others out there with whom I can be We.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Being a Five

I am a sick man…. I am a spiteful man.  I am an unattractive man.  I believe my liver is diseased.  However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me.  I don’t consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors.
Notes from the Underground ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky

We all have a narrative about ourselves, a story we tell ourselves which helps us make sense of who we are. In his book Stages of Faith, James Fowler connects each stage in our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development to an evolving personal story. For example, at the Intuitive-Projective stage, infants behave as if they are the center of the universe; that is their subconscious narrative about themselves. However, problems occur when one commits to a particular story about oneself—even when the story is no longer valid, even when the story is destructive.

The Underground Man in Dostoyevsky’s novel is committed to a narrative about himself that involves him in acute despair and heartache. Yet he will not abandon his beliefs.

The more conscious I was of goodness and of all that was “sublime and beautiful”, the more deeply I sank into my mire and the more ready I was to sink in it altogether. But the chief point was that all this was, as it were, not accidental in me, but as though it were bound to be so.

The Underground Man attributes his condition to a “great deal of consciousness”, calling it a disease.  But that is a red herring. The real disease is his commitment to his story at any cost.  He has just enough self-awareness to recognize his perversity, but not enough to grow beyond it.  He knows what he knows about himself and will not be persuaded otherwise.

As I move through my own stages of faith, I have learned to enjoy my personal story. But I hold it lightly because it has changed over time and will continue to change. I have learned that I can show my gratitude for the gift of thinking—of consciousness—by changing my mind once in a while.

The Underground Man states that, “twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.”

According to the Enneagram, I am a Five. I find that charming; it makes for a good story. But I am not committed to it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Brain Loops

Brain Loops
(excerpt from Clark’s journal)

Recently in Sunday school class, the teacher began the lesson with a music video of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”  It was sung a cappella by a group of five young men who call themselves Home Free.  The song was beautifully sung and the video was beautifully filmed.  There was just one tiny distraction–one of the singers looked like Sirius Black (Harry Potter’s godfather.)

I could have dismissed this silly thought except another one crept in.  I remembered that Harry read an article about Sirius Black in a wizard gossip magazine called The Quibbler.  The news article claimed that Sirius Black was actually Stubby Boatman, the lead singer of a group called The Hobgoblins.  All this is going through my head while I am sitting in Sunday school watching a music video of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

This is an example of what it’s like living with my brain.  My brain has a mind of its own and insists on thinking its own thoughts.  It is so self-willed that it wakes me up during the night–when I would rather be sleeping–and wanders about, poking its nose into all sorts of things.  What does one do with an untamed brain!

The sad irony is I have made my brain this way.  I have carefully nurtured it, fed it, exposed it to life’s experiences, and have allowed it to grow up unfettered by hidebound thinking.  I could not bear to shackle its free-range curiosity and encouraged its loops around a Mobius strip.  Now I wonder…have I created a monster?

If so, I am responsible for it.  I must embrace my brain and love it for what it is and allow it to love me in its own unique way, even it that means I am inundated with strange thoughts during Sunday school or at three o’clock in the morning.

Therefore, despite my occasional grousing, I am thankful that my brain has developed into the thinker that it is.  I would not have it any other way.  And what do I get in return?  Just this:  I can sit down at any time and write; all I have to do is draw from the reservoir of ideas that my brain keeps so thoughtfully filled.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Monsters We Create

Science and technology, like all original creations of the human spirit, are unpredictable. If we had a reliable way to label our toys good and bad, it would be easy to regulate technology wisely. But we can rarely see far enough ahead to know which road leads to damnation. Whoever concerns himself with technology, either to push it forward or to stop it, is gambling in human lives.

Freeman Dyson ~ Disturbing the Universe

Mary Shelley warned us. So did Edith Nesbit and Kurt Vonnegut. It was certainly the main theme of Freeman Dyson’s book. Joseph Conrad called it “the horror.” Even John Grisham picked up the ball and tossed it around in his novel Jurassic Park.

We are responsible for our creations—even when they turn out to be monsters.

Many writers have recognized this and have called on the human race to be careful. The Magic City is real; our “toys” remain with us once we give them life. But I think writers must also set the example and be careful of the monsters they create.

The Saurons, the Voldemorts, and the Kurtz’ of the literary world may be essential to the plot of a novel; but I think all deserve a chance at redemption. They may all be like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster—a lonely heart in need of love. Why, even humans are like that.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Puncturing the Ego

(Or Rhino-Between-the-Lines)

Susan Calvin stared steadfastly at the floor, "He knew all of this."

Lanning looked up, "You're wrong there, Dr. Calvin. He doesn't know what went wrong. I asked him.

“What does that mean?” cried Calvin. “Only that you didn’t want him to give you the solution. It would puncture your ego to have a machine do what you couldn’t do.”

Isaac Asimov~ I, Robot  

Wilfred groaned.
“I’ll never figure this out. Euclid can take his mucky elements and shove them…”

“Wilfred!” interrupted Rhino. “No mental pictures, please.”

Wilfred ignored him and turned to Skandar.

“You’re always wanting to invent things,” he said. “Why don’t you invent a machine that solves problems? You just give the machine a problem, and it tells you the answer.”

“What?” Skandar laughed. “That’s ridiculous. Why on earth would anyone want a machine like that?”

“Oh, I might,” said Trevor. “Think of all the time it would save. If people didn’t have to solve problems, they would have more time to be creative, to devote themselves to other things, like art and music.”

 He leaned back in his chair, waving his hands.

“O Wise and Wonderful Machine,” he said, with his eyes half-closed, “Why is Wilfred so…so… Well, why is Wilfred?”


Wilfred tipped Trevor’s chair onto the floor.

“The first thing I’d ask is how to handle you!”

“And that,” said Rhino, “is why such a machine would not work. If there were a machine built solely to figure out solutions to humans’ problems, it would eventually figure out that humans are the problems. Get rid of humans, and it would solve all their problems.”

“Ah, but then the machine would have created another problem,” said Skandar. “Given that its purpose for existence is to solve problems for humans, without humans to give it problems to solve, it would cease to function.”

“Alright, then, the machine would keep a few humans around to create problems,” said Wilfred. “It could keep them sort of like pets.”

They all laughed.

“How many humans would it take to cause problems?” asked Trevor.

“Well,” Elbert replied, “according to the book of Genesis, it only took two, Adam and Eve.”

“Adam and Eve and a thinking machine!” Trevor mused. “All living together in Paradise.”

“That wouldn’t be my idea of Paradise,” said Rhino. “There are just some things I want to figure out on my own, even if I fail royally. If we had a machine that solved all our problems, people might forget how to think, how to take risks, and how to fail. Why, there could be people who get so addicted to always thinking they are right, they may never recognize when they are wrong.”

“Now you’re talkin’ nonsense,” said Wilfred. “I admit the idea of a problem-solving machine is a little far-fetched. But it’s pure fantasy to imagine that someone would never think that they are wrong.”

Skandar shuddered.
“That would be my idea of Hell.”