In the Garden – Part 1


This reflection grew out of a question from a company "Come Together" meeting. Someone had pushed back against the daily rat-race described in the short film This Is Water, which we had just watched. In response, another person asked: "Well, what does reality look like? How would you describe it?" This was followed by uncomfortable glances and a change of conversation. Of course, I was quietly turning over the film's failure to overcome the daily rat-race with its description of a better, more fulfilling way to live. But the unanswered question remained planted until the next month when the "Come Together" theme, Earth month, brought its own concerns. An answer to both that question and the concerns that I had had over the past two months burst forth in a vivid image that explained and transcended the daily rat-race. I will attempt to sketch that image as follows.

In the Garden (A Reflection)

My day started, as everyone's does, with my mother pushing me outside. I didn't want to go; it was too bright. She smiled at my remonstrances and said, "It's so bright because it's so beautiful. You'll find much to learn and do. Here's your lunch. Don't forget to bring a friend back for supper." Then she kissed my forehead and closed the door.

I stood there in the grey morning, not sure what to do next. Reluctantly, I turned away from the door and looked about.

I was standing on a short wooden deck that stretched along the side of the house. A few paces from me there were three steps down to a path that entered a high hedge which walled off a sort of garden. Rising above the hedge, gigantic oak limbs reached over the deck and the roof of the house.

A soft breeze shook the limbs above, sprinkling my head with three large drops of dew.

The hedge also swayed, appearing to beckon invitingly to one so newly christened. Encouraged by such friendly beckoning, and curious of what lay on the other side, I toddled down the steps, along the path, and into the entrance.

The hedge was thicker than I expected, meeting over my head before opening into a garden, but what a garden!

Small trees with large, thick waxy leaves and enormous white flowers stood on either side of that green portal, filling the air with their fragrance. I was looking up, slack-jawed, when a small insect buzzed out of one of the flowers. Startled, I jumped backward, tripped and landed on the cool dark earth next to the path, my carefully packed lunch pail clattering as it landed next to me. Rolling over, I looked up and saw a small stone boulder poking out of the path, with a point just high enough to trip over. I shook my fist at it, and then felt rather silly. It had probably been there for a few centuries, and I was the newcomer.

Standing up, I noticed another large stone conspicuously placed on the other side of the path. Dusting myself off, I walked over and examined it. Arrows were scrawled in different directions, and near each arrow was a word. "Arbor" said one, "Tools" another and so on. There was one named "Swing" that appealed most to me, so, with my lunch pail in hand, I trotted in that direction.

To be continued...

I Could Be President

Every year, around my birthday, I become thoughtful about where I am and where I'm going. This year, I remembered that I will be old enough to run for the 2024 US Presidential election. While the idea of being the Commander in Chief is fascinating, as any position with power and prestige naturally is, I don't see myself called in that direction. Upon further reflection, It is completely crazy what we ask the President to do and only an insane person would seek to gain that office.

For instance, we expect the President to expertly address the political implications of any topic at any time. Those topics could range from Industry to Agriculture, from Science to Art, and from Weather to Religion. This is all within our own country; Foreign affairs takes all of these topics and compounds them. On top of that, we citizens are constantly getting surface-level information on all these topics through emails, videos, radio, or podcasts. This often triggers us to exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect, insisting that we know exactly what the President ought to do and getting upset when he doesn't do it.

When we decide to replace the previous President, one thing that we tend to forget (probably due to how uncomfortable the knowledge is) is that the next President will only be slightly better or slightly worse than ourselves. As much as we try to set up a path to the Presidency where only a man or woman of the highest merit is elected, the only ones who will be available are those which we have educated ourselves. This means that if we previously selected a lousy president, how can we be sure that the next president we elect will be any better?

How do we get out of this conundrum? We have to step away from the immediate problems that we face and understand the background and history of the people in the country and how their actions led to the problems of the day. This allows for us to perceive the actual state of the country and bring alignment between that and the political order. This understanding enables a person who has an incomplete knowledge of the particulars to maneuver among the political challenges thrown his or her way since personal reaction and public opinion will be easier to predict. At the same time, this understanding can only be developed through intense study that most people cannot undertake due to their focusing on their careers and interests.

In addition, how this understanding is leveraged in moving or reacting to Public Opinion still doesn't handle whether such an action will improve or worsen the status quo. Public Opinion may believe a course of action is good when it will end disastrously, and no amount of pleading will change that belief. Overcoming this involves the hard work of setting good standards and persuading all citizens (including yourself) to observe them. By standards, I mean "what things are valued and in what order."* These standards must be measured against the standard of the human person, that is, whether they make a man more of a man or less of a man, and whether they make a woman more of a woman or less of a woman.

I should get off my soapbox. I have strong beliefs in what good standards should be followed by the United States but lack a deep understanding and the political experience to be able to put them into effect. Putting me into the Oval Office would likely do more harm than good. I'll stick with praying that God helps us elect the President we need rather than the President we deserve.

*I'm very grateful to Society and Sanity by Frank Sheed for helping me with this reflection.

Meditation on the Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord – Day 24

The summit gained.

The prisoner's aide heaves aside the cross and disappears
amid the chaos of the gathering crowd.

"Strip the prisoner and nail him."

Clouds gather as we stretch the bloody limbs and drive the spikes
Maddeningly, he is silent still
What is he? He must be mad!
A soldier shrugs and points to the two protesting thieves.
Their turn.

Here, light a torch
now hoist them up
His accusers arrive in the deepening gloom.
"If you are the Son of God, come down from that cross"

Amid the jeers, His voice comes clear
"Woman, behold thy son."
Then, to the man who stands beside her.
"Behold thy Mother".
Even now his thought is on others.
"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."

A sneering laugh, "Come down, and then we will believe"
"Eli, Eli, Lama Sabacthani?"
his pain is excruciating, yet he responds with the Scriptures.

The jeers take on a note of fear,
then desperation in the growing dark.
fear that he will come down?
fear that he will not.

"Come down! Come Down! Then we will believe!"
An earthly king can be persuaded or ignored,
an earthly kingdom is easy and comfortable
but a kingdom that requires suffering and death to gain?

In the inky blackness, no moon or stars we see.
Only our torches light the scene there on Calvary

"I thirst"
but not for the wine and gall we bring Him.
"It is finished"
a cry
and He is gone.

rocks split
and the massy temple curtain tears
from top to bottom

truly, this man was the Son of God.

Meditation on the Carrying of the Cross – Day 23

Shall I crucify your king?
The taunting challenge and cowardly reply hover in the air.
We have no king but Caesar.
Upon His bleeding shoulder, my men shove yet more suffering.

Leaving the gate, He falls under the weight.
Near a woman, whose arms instinctively reach to catch him.
Doesn't matter that his mother is here.
We don't want him to die on the way there.

I see a strong man and order he lends a hand.
"He won't make it. Here, you, help him take it."
Then I turn to see another woman break free
wipes the face from Galilee.

Push her away with the butt of your spear
No, I don't care, we need to get moving.
With order restored, we keep going
Hopefully, no new disturbance appears.

Despite the help, He falls again
To wails of concern from new passers-by
The prisoner speaks to them.
Weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children

Again, we push Him along, making better progress
Wondering at His lack of bitterness
Another fall, the blood-filled footprints telling the tale
This time, He struggles to His feet without our help

What is this man?
Striving for the top
Where Death awaits?

Evolution needs God – Day 22

A couple of months ago, I picked up the out-of-print "Philosophy of Religion" by Venerable Fulton Sheen. Unlike his more popular works, it is written for an academic audience and requires more effort to read. One point that stuck out to me was his lengthy and lucid explanation for why Evolution without God involves a contradiction.

I will attempt to summarize:

  • Evolution describes the slow realization of a greater order from a lesser order.
  • This realization of a greater order from a lesser order is either intrinsic or extrinsic to the universe.
  • If it is extrinsic to the universe, then it must be from some transcendent being in whom is the perfection of all that is in the universe.
  • If it is intrinsic to the universe, then that law of evolution must have been put in place by some transcendent being in whom is the perfection of order.
  • This transcendent being, in whom is the perfection of being and the perfection of order, is who we call God.

This is only one of the arguments. He works his way through psychology, biology, physics, mathematics, and other sciences that have - at one time or another - each attempted to declare itself the supreme science and to reinterpret the other sciences based on its discoveries. With each, he demonstrates where they are lacking and uses Thomistic philosophy to fill in the gaps.

His explanations also reminded me of the repeated explanation: "Because of evolution" from scientists in response to questions about different phenomena in their fields. More and more, I'm led to believe that such a response is the equivalent of saying "I don't know." Evolution describes how but doesn't tell you why. To paraphrase Fulton Sheen: It is the equivalent of talking about the factual correlation of nuts and bolts of a machine, but not the reason for their correlation.

Home Project – Day 21

With the weather warming up again, I'm rushing to accomplish a home project of refreshing the insulation in the attic. Last year, we suffered through the summer with the temperatures in the house reaching up to the low eighties while it was in the upper nineties outside. I don't want to experience what will happen if the temperature goes above 100.

I spent a good chunk of time last year insulating part of the house, but I missed the area that was absorbing the most heat. The house was properly insulated a while back, but the existing fiberglass insulation has settled since then. Rather than piling on more fiberglass, I'm leveraging mineral wool insulation, which is resistant to settling, doesn't absorb water, and doesn't burn the same way as fiberglass (it has to get above 2000F before there's a problem).

Mineral wool insulation is about twice the cost per square foot compared with fiberglass. Rather than completely replace the existing blown-in fiberglass insulation, I'm moving it to make room for the mineral wool batts. Using the existing insulation to fill in some of the rafters as well as around the vents and pipes coming through the ceiling will reduce the amount of mineral wool insulation that I'll need. That being said, due to the mismatch between the width of the insulation (24in) and the width of the beams(19.25in), I'm going to end up with long and thin pieces of mineral wool that I can use to fit around hotter areas (like the water heater and the stove vent).

The goal is to raise the R-Value (the standard measure for insulation effectiveness) from an estimated R-10/R-15 to R-30. Hopefully, I'll be able to finish the hottest areas before Easter...

Platinum or Play-dough? – Day 20

This is a bit of a long one, so hold on to your hats.

I heard about the "Platinum Rule" in a series of different presentations recently. According to the different presenters, they said that the Platinum Rule is based on the Golden Rule "Treat others as you would want to be treated". The "Platinum Rule" is "Treat others the way that they want to be treated". Some said that the two rules were good in different contexts. Others said that the Platinum Rule was superior to the Golden Rule and hinted that the Golden Rule was not sufficient. Because of my upbringing, this appearance of a rule that was claimed to be similar to or even better than what I had learned from my parents rubbed me the wrong way, and I was determined to figure out where the problem lay.

My immediate reaction was "well, if you are interested in how I want to be treated, then please treat me like royalty, and obey my every command." But that would be too ridiculous for someone to take me seriously, so I had to figure out what the actual problem was.

So, I went and opened up the Gospel of Matthew, which states the Golden Rule as follows: "So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets."(Matthew 7:12, RSVCE) Now, that is rather different from "Treat others as you want to be treated", but the word "do" is rather generic and could be taken to mean "treat". So I pulled up a copy of the Latin Vulgate (Sadly, I don't know Greek), and read the following: "Omnia ergo quæcumque vultis ut faciant vobis homines, et vos facite illis. Hæc est enim lex, et prophetæ." (emphasis added). Then I pulled up the origin of the word "treat", and it went back to the Latin word, "tractare".

To use the Latin infinitive:

  • Facere: to do, to make. The sense I get is one of a craftsman fashioning with his tools.
  • Tractare: to handle, to manage. The sense I get is of two people working out a deal.

That doesn't seem the same at all. So I did a little more work and managed to pick out the Greek word: "ποιῶσιν", which transliterated to "poiósin". After some more digging, I landed on the following page: The Greek is definitely more ambiguous than the Latin, but it still leans more toward "facere" than "tractare".

Based on this information, claiming that the Golden Rule is: "Treat others as you want to be treated" is very transactional. A transactional relationship is rather impersonal, hence the desire to emphasize the person and personality of others with the Platinum Rule. However, the Golden Rule as originally stated: "Whatever you wish men would do to you, do so to them" speaks of bringing something into being that wasn't present before.

Taking a step back and looking at the context of the Golden Rule, further emphasizes the distance from the "Treat" version. The Golden Rule is stated as part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount that begins with the 8 beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor in spirit...". Here is the surrounding context of the verse (Golden Rule emphasized):

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 7:7-14, RSVCE

The key to understanding how the Golden Rule fits into this context is in the phrase "For this is the law and the prophets". Turning to the Haydock Commentary:

"For this is the law and the prophets; that is, all precepts that regard our neighbor are directed by this golden rule, do as you would be done by. WI. - The whole law and the duties between man and man inculcated by the prophets, have this principle for foundation. The Roman emperor Alexander Severus, is related to have said that he esteemed the Christians for their acting on this principle. A. - This is the sum of the law and the prophets, the whole law of the Jews. M."

Also, from the commentary by Cornelius of Lapide:

"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would, &c. The word therefore, some are of opinion has not here any inferential meaning, but is only an enclitic particle, denoting the conclusion of this part of our Lord's Sermon. Hence the Syriac omits it. On the other hand we may, with S. Chrysostom, take the therefore as inferential, and then the meaning would be this: "What I have hitherto said at large concerning love of your neighbor and giving of alms, all these things arise out of this primary natural precept, and first principle of moral philosophy, and rest upon equity, that what thou wishest to be done to thyself that thou shouldst do to others, and what thou dost not wish to suffer from others, that thou shouldst not do unto others." Understand that wishest and wishest not, must be taken in a good sense, as guided by right reason. For the man who wishes wine to ve given him that he may get drunk may not lawfully offer it to others for such a purpose. Christ here alludes to the monition which Tobi, when he was dying, gave to his son (iv. 16): "That which thou wouldst hate to be done until thyself, take heed that at no time thou doest it to another."

Given these reflections on the Golden rule, it becomes apparent that the comparison between the Golden rule and the Platinum rule skips over the Christian and Jewish moral foundation that are part of the Golden Rule. With the focus on an amoral, transactional, bargaining type relationship between the two people, it's easy to see why the emphasis on the value of the other person is desired. The value of each human being is embedded in the Christian and Jewish moral tradition, like a diamond in a gold ring, which is why there would be no need to have a second "rule" to help clarify that. Insisting that we treat others as they want to be treated, is rather amorphous and makes it easy for whoever is "other" to insist on their way, treating us rather like play-dough to be shaped to their liking.

The Christian tradition, however, gives a strong example for not "treat[ing] others the way that they want to be treated" with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. At the turning point in the parable, the younger son has come to himself and says : "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15 18-19, RSVCE. Emphasis added.) Does the father treat his son in the way his son wants to be treated? No! He overwhelms him with love and generosity, restoring the son to his lost dignity and also treating him in the way that he, the father, wishes to be treated.

To end on a couple humorous and slightly humbling notes; I did some final validation in my research, and it turns out that the Latin for the prodigal son's statement is "Fac me sicut". So I have this long-winded passage about how "treat" is different from "make" and here is a good translation that says the underlying word can be translated both ways. Sigh. Also, I looked up where the verb "Tractare" is used in the Gospel, and it's used only once in Mark: When Christ asks the apostles what they were discussing (tractabatis) along the way. But the apostles remained silent because they had been discussing (disputaverunt) who was the greatest among them.

Seeing what sticks – Day 19

I was speaking with a good friend today about my previous blog post, and ended up discussing my general learning style. I thought it would be good to capture some of my thoughts in written form for future reference.

I have very strong beliefs. Glancing over some of my recent blog posts, this is probably obvious to anyone who reads them. Thankfully, my education helped me to understand two things: First, I can't be correct about everything. Second, the best way to learn is either to reason through the problem or to experiment with possible solutions. Typically when approached with a problem, if I have some idea of the answer, then I can ask questions and reason my way to a possible solution. If I have no idea, I try to grasp the context of the question and then start throwing random ideas at it as quickly as possible to see what sticks.

Recently I've picked up Microsoft PowerBI and ended up down the rabbit hole of the M language. I've never used PowerBI before, so I immediately started throwing random things together to see what worked and then searching the internet whenever I ran into an error that I didn't understand. Because of this (and my background in web design and backend programming), I was able to gain a lot of knowledge very rapidly.

Another example is when I join a new team, rather than spending time talking with my fellow teammates (I admit, this is a shortcoming), I instead grab a task from the backlog and see how they react when I deliver it. Did they think I went too slow? Did I skip a process step? Was there an assumed requirement on my side or theirs? Was one team member very happy/angry about how the story was delivered?

Typically I only have to fail a few times during this period of "throwing things at the wall" before I hit upon the expected process or mental model needed to keep working. I also tend to build a very in-depth knowledge of a complex system because I'm always finding new ways to provoke and observe it. Sometimes I find some information that appears to contradict one of my strong beliefs. I then have to reason out if they contradict, how they contradict, and which is more correct.

What I'm really bad at is writing down the knowledge and the reasoning process behind it. Hopefully, this post and future blog posts will help fix that.

Perfect or Good Enough? – Day 18

I often hear people quip, "Don't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'". In particular contexts, this statement makes good sense. Don't allow perfectionism to prevent you from finishing a task or a project. Since we don't know what perfect looks like, we may be spending time adding an unnecessary feature. However, this statement is often said as a truism, as if it could stand on its own without additional clarification or context. In this last sense, I heartily disagree.

A thing is perfect when it cannot change without ceasing to be perfect. This seems like stating the obvious. Definitions usually are obvious. However, the conclusions drawn from them are often surprising. The word "good" however, tends to resist definition because to define it puts you in a particular philosophical camp. In this case, I'll lean on Thomas Aquinas, and say that a thing is good when it is desirable for its own sake or useful for achieving what is desirable for its own sake. (yes, it's confusing). With these two definitions, though, we suddenly see that the statement "Don't let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'good'" doesn't make sense. Something which is perfect would be extremely desirable, otherwise it wouldn't be perfect!

Now, there may be some balking at that last statement, but let's consider the following:

  • When working on a task, it can be done less well or more well
  • It is naturally more desirable for a task to be well done and less desireable to be less well done.
  • Having a task perfectly done would be the most desirable
  • the more desirable a thing is, the more good it is
  • Therefore having a task perfect done would be the most good

Again this is probably obvious and pedantic, and yet here we have to be careful. Are we humans capable of accomplishing any task perfectly on our own?

No, we can't. We can't accomplish anything good on our own.

This would require a much longer conversation to truly dig out of this problem, but I'm tired, so I'll jump to the end: We are only capable of accomplishing good when we cooperate with Perfect Goodness Himself. And He will only accept perfection.

Take a retreat – Day 17

This past weekend, I was blessed to go on a silent retreat that followed the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It was incredibly fruitful and a good reminder of how far I have to grow to be an "icon" of Christ. If you have not yet experienced such a retreat, then I heartily recommend it. If you have never gone to a Catholic spiritual retreat, GO! If you aren't Catholic, well, you're missing out.