November 29, 2005

Factory Life, pt. 2: On Being Ungrateful

It was pouring rain as I walked out the door, tip-toed across a flooding parking lot, climbed into my car, and began the long journey home from work today. I don't usually like the rain, especially driving in it, but today it felt appropriate somehow, like a well-needed cleansing. I mused over the day, exhausted, remembering with fondness the various illegal activities I'd been required to engage in. Well, only one actually. I was asked by my supervisor to pull small stickers off of boxes containing filters, stickers that said "made in Canada", and replace them with stickers that said "Made in the USA". Yes, it was illegal. Yes, I'm sorry to say I realized it halfway through my job. No, I didn't stop. *sigh* My thoughts wandered to the post I wrote yesterday.
As I thought through it, I found myself somewhat mortified at what I'd written. My only consolation was the "good lord, the arrogance" comment, about myself, somewhere towards the end. What I failed to mention yesterday, something that went through my head and never made it to the page, and something that should have been first, was something about the very people I kind of humiliated when I wrote.

While they are exactly as I so brutally describe them, they are also kind people. They accepted me unconditionally, as one of them, without question or reproach (though they did ask me what a guy with a university education was doing "in a place like this"). C, a guy who on the one hand has a daughter, no wife, and two girlfriends, was the first to welcome me, and the first to offer conversation (despite the continued invitations to discuss the various kinds of pornography he and D, ah, enjoy), his gentle running monologue enough to keep me awake on my first day there. S, a cultural Mormon (I didn't know they existed till I met her) and a girl who married her husband after three weeks in Vegas and who seemed to want nothing but to make her life easy by winning the lottery, asks me every day how my lunch break was, and was the person who asked me all about being a missionary on the first day I was there, an opportunity which hasn't really resurfaced since then. Not to mention she's read both the Bible and the book of Mormon all the way through. I can't claim that.

The pinnacle of this is what happened today. As I was pulling "made in Canada" stickers off of the boxes and replacing them with their USA counterparts, I began to talk with my partner in crime, Gene. Gene is an older gentleman, someone who has worked in factories most of his life. He says that Graver is a good place to work, mostly because it's very lenient on the rules (a bad in my book, since we had to use xylene with our bare hands, but no matter) and with policies for the employees. Usually he's a painter, spray-painting the massive filter housings that the welding department gives him. So here we are, pulling off stickers;

"Shit," he said.
"What?" I asked. His reply was to pull, with some exaduration, a sticker off of the box in his other hand.
"So you're a musician, huh," he asked, then paused. "You in a band or something?"
"Yes, well, sort of. I'm a worship leader at my church."
"A what?"
"A worship leader. I play guitar."
"Oh. Shit. Oh my, sorry. I shouldn't cuss around a worship leader."

As our little conversation progressed, I found out that he sincerely wished his life - the decisions that he'd made - had been different. He wished he'd gone to college, majored in some computer science or something of that nature, so he could work on things more interesting than painting, to do something more worthwhile with his life. I felt terrible as I thought about this, thinking that I HAD gone to college and yet, here I was, making gross generalizations about the people of this little world of a factory, people who I thought didn't care about their educations.

All this to say that I found my comments yesterday to be somewhat one-sided and harsh, not offering the humanity of these people who have been forced into working at a factory. I don't particularly regret my comments regarding the factory itself, nor about the church - the only good thing about a factory is its ability to give lots of people jobs, but a church that looks like a factory hasn't fully realized its own potential. I'm just sad to have made myself a part of the church factory with some of my judgmental comments. So, to those people (who haven't actually read this) of Graver Technologies NY, I'm sorry.

November 28, 2005

Factory Life

Nobody was meant to wake up at 4:15 in the morning. End of story. Not for work. Not for vacations. Not for Babies. Not even for Christmas presents. Well, maybe for Christmas presents and maybe for Babies, and I suppose if the vacation were really good, then maybe for that too.

But not for work. Work is something you go to because you have to; at least, it has been (thus far) for me. And when you're not really a morning person, like me, it means that you go to work solely because your survival depends upon it. But how far are you willing to go to survive? Lately, in my case, it has meant giving up the two things I love most dearly next to my wife: my sleep, and my hands. Now, obviously sleep – going to bed at 8pm to get up at 4 is not my idea of acceptable – but why the hands?

My hands are, according to my grandmother, the two most valuable things I have. And today, while at work, her vague warning of "don't mess them up" was wandering through my head as I scraped and gouged them up on chicken wire, burned them on liquid urethane and on xylene alcohol, and glued them together with industrial strength super-glue. My hands are in serious pain right now, cut and bruised in a lot of places.

And I can't help but wonder why I'm there. I mean, I know it's because the temp agency offered me a job there, and silly me, thinking it to be a science lab (with a name like "Graver Technologies," what else could it be?) and told I'd be doing some "small assembly work" (direct quote from the temp agency), I accepted. But having been there for a week, I find nothing small about the work we do (we build industrial filters), and I find myself – daily – almost in tears as I wake up, begging God not to make me go again.

This is the problem with prayer – sometimes it gets answered, but not really the way you wanted, or weirder, you get what you asked for, but there's a catch you forgot to mention when you prayed. I prayed for work. And God gave it to me. I just forgot to mention that I'd rather use my four-year college degree with something I can do, not something that ruins my body.

Not that I find the work beneath me, it can be challenging occasionally. Though I do often find myself wondering why someone "of my talents" (good lord am I arrogant) isn't being used "somewhere more productively" or something like that. During the day, trapped in my plastic prison of protective eyewear, I find myself contemplating just walking out of the factory, away from the pain in my hands and from the junk that goes on around me. I find that the people there are often shallow, their conversation centered around employee gossip and make-believe sexual relationships with one another. Few are married, yet nearly all have children, and none of them see a problem with that. They seem content to go from day to day, looking forward to little else than a break from the tedium to drink and sleep. They don't aspire to anything. They don't feel like working harder than they do, which is, honestly, not that hard, at a leisurely pace.

And yet I've learned something here. I worry that this factory can be more than a tragic part of a fallen world, but a symbol of a problem. The church has become like this factory, its workers blinded by their own desires or lack of direction. The church's purpose has become little else than to intake materials and produce identical products as fast as possible, yet the workers slack off and put out their half-assed work to just get by. I find this disturbing. I'm sickened by it. I see myself often enough as a solution to this problem, yet nothing changes – I’ve become part of the system, and I'm disturbed by that too. Evangelicals, not to mention the rest of Christendom, have corrupted the gospel into a political agenda, into a means to their own profit, the church into a factory meant to produce endless copies of the same product – the self-centered half-hearted mindless drone of a filter that goes on to be used up by the world around it and dumped into heaven, exhausted. We've made the gospel about ourselves, not about everyone else.

I will be returning to the factory twice more, for two more days of work. Unfortunately, the other part of factory life is that they have no respect for the schedule I gave them when I was hired. Since I made other commitments for two weekends (some nearly six months old), ones I can't drop, they said they'd rather me just not come anymore. Which is fine, my hands are already happy about this.

I keep wondering if there's more to be learned there, if I'm giving up on something that was placed in my hands (busted up as they are) for a reason, or if I've already learned all I can, and if I've already been all I can be for them. Should I be sticking it out, for their sakes? There aren't really any other Christians there – have I made it all about my own comfort, all about myself? After all, the sacrifice Jesus made for me - for them - was far greater than just his hands. What are my hands compared to his?

November 18, 2005

The Evolution of the Pot

I shall begin at the beginning, or rather, at the end: it was the year 5023, and scientists were sorting through the grime of the past ages when they uncovered a unique find: a small piece of hard clay. After analysis it was concluded that the clay was a remnant of a larger creature that they deemed “pottus firmus.”

Around the world, paleontologists continued to discover fragments and sometimes complete skeletons of various devices that appeared to be related to the first fragment. Other full skeletons of newer creatures were discovered buried in various strata of rock, dirt, and sometimes, in fields of ice. Genus and Species were assigned. One bold paleontologist posited that not only were these pots related, they were links in a chain, one creature leading to the next.

Pottus Firmus, he said, was in fact the original, a creature formed from the dust of the earth itself. Firmus evolved, over time, into Pottus Bulbus, with its larger bottom and smaller top that better contained water. As evolution progressed, Bulbus’ outer shell became more ornamented, and, unable to mate with like creatures, became Pottus Decorum. Over time, it gave way to Pottus Amphorai, a larger and better adapted creature to the harsh Mediterranean environment where it was found.

It is here that his theory lost some credibility, because he could find no link between Amphorai and the next most recent skeleton in the ground, Pottus Tremendum, a smaller but fearsomely sturdier creature suited to the harsher environment of a warring world. Finally, Pottus Moderna was the final link in the chain, but after which the race went extinct after the large thermonuclear disaster of 2158.

Eventually it was discovered that they were not creatures at all, but kitchen pots. The study was abandoned, and the paleontologist gave up his study of population biology in favor of basket weaving.

I know I should leave well enough alone, but for those of you who know me, you know that I can’t resist talking about two things, both of them former thesis projects: postmodernism and the evolution/intelligent design debate.

First we must separate a problem: evolution isn’t a single unified theory, rather it is a conglomeration of a lot of different ideas, and like creationism, no two scientists hold the exact same view of it (though I will admit that lots more scientists come much closer to holding identical beliefs than religious proponents of Intelligent design). The most easily distinguished categories are micro- and macro-evolution. The two do not depend on one another to exist, or rather, macroevolution depends upon microevolution, but not vice-versa. Microevolution, then, can be an independent theory in and of itself (sui generis, you might say), the driving force to the more controversial theory of macroevolution.

No matter how hard scientists try, they can’t seem to get away with the one major problem with their theory of macroevolution: probability. It seems to keep throwing a wrench in the works, because while they can often show that evolution is technically possible, it’s never been shown that it’s any more probable than any other theory of origins (partly because evolution makes no claim to know how it all started, just that it did at some point). Simply because a bunch of things look the same doesn’t mean that they evolved of … what force? What is the driving force of evolution? It’s not the laws of thermodynamics, they prove that evolution shouldn’t happen, but they also show that life shouldn’t happen either. Yet it does.

For example, the probabilities involved with the evolution of the first protein are astronomical. To get from a random batch of primordial chemicals to one protein, fully formed, are so high it’s not really worth talking about. The number of chemical reactions required, the forces working against those reactions happening, and then for the protein to not denature within moments of its formation in a hostile environment makes its un-guided evolution next to impossible. The cell (of any organism) has so many chemical stabilizers (mRNA and rRNA, transcription proteins, etc.) for creating proteins because proteins, especially the complicated proteins required for complex life, do not naturally form – they are created. It is against the laws of nature (especially thermodynamics) for proteins to form (for example, the shape of a protein is dependent upon the interaction of various parts of the protein, which are easily disrupted by the presence of other chemicals, ions, etc, and the chances of this happening in a primordial environment are slim).

Another example: let’s grant that nature defied the odds (for what other driving force can we give evolution but the sort of ethereal “nature”?), and somehow a little critter evolved from the primordial goo. It’s single-celled, and eventually multiplies into a plethora of different single-celled organisms, and eventually into multi-cellular yet mitotically-replicating organisms (organisms that divide themselves into two identical pieces). Yet as soon as an organism evolves that requires mitosis to divide (sexual reproduction, meaning it needs two of that organism), the species would have died immediately. First, there’s only one of this thing (let’s say it’s a fish or something) around because it’s so improbable in the first place that it evolved. Second, even if another did evolve, the odds of it being at the same time and the same place as the first one are huge!

Ok. So if macroevolution doesn’t work, yet microevolution does, it still doesn’t explain where it started. This is, in fact, what distinguishes intelligent design theorists from creationists: microevolution is acknowledged (as well as all scientific evidence) as a valid source of data. And alternately, what distinguishes ID theorists from Evolutionists is twofold: denial of macroevolution and acceptance of a higher power / deity / god as the source and explanation of a created universe. In most instances, this is really just political cover for a Christian who would rather not mention the title “God” in scientific circles, for fear of retribution by his or her unbelieving colleagues.

As it turns out, most scientists would rather shoot themselves than commit the scientific heresy of admitting the existence of a God who might have things figured out better than they do, and they’d rather get angry and upset and violent than admit that they might – might – be wrong. I guess my point in writing this post was not to say that I hate all evolutionists, but to say that I think it’s time that evolutionists gave up their self-righteousness and listened with an unbiased mind for a change. After all, I bought their evidence. I’m a proponent of Intelligent Design; I used to be a scientist, and can’t deny the evidence for microevolution, and frankly I can easily buy the insubstantial evidence for macroevolution – but only the evidence. I can, like many, offer an alternative explanation for it that is really just as probable and just as valid. It does require that I admit the existence of an all-powerful God, but that’s ok with me. I’m a Christian too, so it works as a worldview. I mean, evolutionists are going on a lot of faith too, why is God so hard to admit?

November 12, 2005

Intelligent Evolution

I am amused to share with you all my latest discovery: The Dilbert Blog. Not only does Scott Adams share with us his innermost thoughts, but every so often, he writes a gem of such magnitude that every theological student should read it. And every scientist.

This is what I'm talking about.

That's right: Scott Adams writes about the debate between Evolutionists and Creationists. And it contains the best thoughts I've heard on the subject in ages. My favorite comment was "Scott: This was all just a ruse for you to prove yourself correct that any debate about Evo-ID just turns into angry posts and name-calling, wasn't it?" ... and something tells me he's right, but that's why I love the post so much, because he's so right.

Enjoy the article. It's worth the read.

November 8, 2005

A Servant's Heart

I’d like to respond to a comment made on my last post, a post I wrote to explore my own feelings towards the poor. After I wrote it, and then read the comment, I went and did some research. Here’s the comment:

Where exactly do you read that Jesus tells us to feed the poor?
Jesus touched those that came into His way, His life or His walk. He never went looking for the needy. And just because He restored the sight of one blind man, didn't obligate Him to restore the sight of all who were blind. I do not believe in setting up soup kitchens under 'Christian' leadership. If governments want to head up such a project, go for it, but for Jesus Followers to invest such time and resources and grief (and it is grievous for those with their whole heart in it)...I just see it as a losing battle because Jesus already told us "The poor you will have with you always". [that sounds pretty definite]. Besides, Jesus said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" and housing the homeless and feeding the poor is neither of those things. And it's an impossible task right from the get go when He said it would be so.
I believe that if someone, such as a Susie, asks us for help, we are obligated to do what we can do for them. In Matthew 5, Jesus was pretty clear on how to treat a non-believer, or even an enemy. Whatever they ask, give it to them and then some. [How much more so for a fellow follwer?]

Jesus’ exact words might not have said “feed the poor” (but how often did he say things directly about that sort of thing, rather than saying things like “feed my sheep” and other metaphors – if you think about it, He could be pretty confusing), but from that, two comments. First, I’m not comfortable basing my entire lifestyle about what the gospels never said in explicit detail, and second, history tells us that Jesus’ followers, immediately following His resurrection, sure thought that taking care of the poor was a part of His teaching. Paul mentions it a number of times, but even more compelling are the complaints against Christians in first- and second- century Rome. Emperor Justinian is noted to have complained bitterly against the Christians, making comments about how they kept showing up the Roman government by taking care of not only their own poor/destitute/sick/plague victims, but also taking care of those of the Roman Empire. So Christians weren’t following the law (they wouldn’t follow the cult of the Emperor by making sacrifices to him), but they still went out of their way – into considerable danger, in fact – to take care of those in need. The people who were closest to Jesus when he was actually here physically walking this earth believed that taking care of those in need was important.

Which brings me to the very character of Jesus himself. Jesus came to this universe not to make us focus more on ourselves, but for us to focus more on Him, ergo on others. Jesus is not the kind of guy who says “you are more important than your neighbor,” and it’s been my experience that faith is never comfortable, nor is it easy. In fact, I’d say that being a child of Christ is both harder and less comfortable in the current world than not being one of his children. Why? Because Jesus said lots of stuff that goes against the grain of the world; “My yolk is easy and my burden is light” is followed by things like “I tell you if you think impure thoughts about a woman, you have committed adultery” and “anyone who says to his brother ‘raca’ [a word of hate] is answerable to the Sanhedrin, and anyone who says ‘you fool!’ will be in danger of the fires of hell.” I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure this is not exactly an easy thing – how often is our first instinct (and the one we often follow) to say “I hate you,” or “you suck” or whatever your choice of language is … instead of showing compassion and mercy?

He said “whoever wants to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven will make himself like a child, humble and obedient” – something that human beings are often incapable of. Not only that, but are you saying we are only to follow Christ’s words, not his actions? He spent so much time in the gospels healing and aiding the poor that it’s a wonder he found the time to teach!

To extend this further, there is lots of the three years of Jesus’ ministry unaccounted for in scripture. The gospel writers only give us examples of what He did, not everything he did. There’s a verse in John (30:20) that says “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book;” there were more we don’t even know about because the disciples and gospel writers got tired of writing down so many examples. Most of his miracles follow a pattern of healing, generosity, and dedication to those less fortunate. And if I may infer something, since Jesus is God, all of us are less fortunate than He is. He owns everything, he has been given authority over heaven and earth by God the father, and what did he do? He gave away freely to those that needed it (five thousand men and their families, for example, or think of his parable of the wedding banquet where the king goes and invites all the people off the streets instead of the people who didn’t have time for him).

I don’t see a Jesus who thinks that the poor and “unclean” are a waste of time and energy and grief, I see a Jesus who cares for the destitute most of all – his compassion is limitless! He cares for people – all people – more than he cares for himself, i.e. the cross. He gave everything he had, even his body and his life, for those less fortunate than he. The gospel is not about me as an individual getting to heaven and not wasting my time and efforts on my neighbor (and yes, feeding the poor is part of that), it is about giving up myself and my wishes and my desires and my comforts to follow a God - in mind and in deed - who loves us all.

November 1, 2005

A Mile in Their Shoes

After waking up this morning, my wife turns to me and says (after good morning), “honey, why don’t you come to downtown and volunteer instead of sitting around?” Now, I wasn’t sure what to make of that, because when I’m there I don’t really feel like I sit around all the time – I do help out when she asks – so I said so; “I do volunteer … why would you think I don’t?” And so she says “well … yes … sort of … but you really just kind of sit there until I have to ask you to do something.”

While I was glad we were on the same page, her tone of voice bothered me – she sounded like she thought that was bad. “What’s wrong with that?” I asked. “You sit there,” she said, “and play on your little shiny laptop while all these poor people come in to get food. Well, maybe not play, I know you’re doing work, but it’s still on a shiny laptop.” After I realized what she was saying, being the gallant man I am, I told her I’d think about it.

And the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I usually feel pretty good about being there, because I don’t get in the way, and I get to be near my wife while I write the music I’d otherwise be writing alone at home. I felt like I had a pretty good deal. And yet, whenever she asks me to work with a client, it usually ends up being the part where I get their food and not the part where I have to talk with them. And then I thought about compassion – what do I feel when I see these people that makes me want to get their food and not talk with them like another human being. I mean, I’m not a shy kind of guy usually, but for some reason, in these settings (which are in some ways just like the coffee shops and restaurants that I’ve worked in), I get nervous to the point where I’d prefer to focus on my laptop and shut out the world around me.

And I came to the conclusion that I really don’t feel much of anything for those people; no compassion, no kindness, no mercy … not really even pity. In fact, I feel disdain towards many (not all, I’m not a monster) of them, looking at their bad choices and thinking that if they really cared, they could always go get a job and they wouldn’t need our help. They must just be lazy and trying to take advantage of the system instead of working for what they want.

And many of them are – I see people come from Eddie O’Brien’s (a bar and restaurant across the street) where they just had lunch, over to the food pantry to get food, where they annoy the volunteers by telling them exactly (to the brand-name and flavor) what they want, and that nothing else will do. They carry cell phones and wear nice enough clothing (not usually very stylish, but sometimes). I see those people and all I think of is that justice is not being done, that they shouldn’t be getting food from us, that the food should be saved for people who really need it.

And the more I thought about it, the more I began to hate my attitude. They’re God’s children too, just like me, only their bad choices focused around their finances or their education or maybe – just maybe – they didn’t make a bad choice at all and yet the world still chose them to be the brunt of ill luck. Maybe lots of those people really are just doing what they know and have never had anyone to invest in them – parents, grandparents, friends, anyone – to show them that there’s a better way, a more satisfying way to live life.

And it occurs to me, after reading
Greg’s post, that (as I said in my comment) it takes the relationship to understand a person’s true needs – and to walk a mile or maybe a few in their shoes. Maybe the reason that people like me have no compassion is that we haven’t walked in the shoes of these people at all. We’ve never been poor, not really, and we didn’t grow up in the sort of homes they did, we didn’t lose the sort of things they lost, we didn’t not-have the sorts of things they didn’t.

We’re spoiled.

Or maybe they’re “underprivileged” or whatever. Political-correctness aside, I’m to the point where I have a choice to make – do I walk in their shoes or don’t I? It means putting a lot of stuff aside (my shiny laptop maybe?) or getting rid of altogether. It means wandering way out of my comfort zone and doing stuff I’m not used to and I don’t think I’ll like very much – like going hungry; like humiliating myself by searching for low-level fast-food jobs or garbage-jobs or things like that. I can’t take away my education, sadly, but I don’t have to mention it when I interview.

Or maybe I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing and after this all passes, find myself back where I started, no more humble and no more patient and no more compassionate than I was when I started … or maybe I’ll learn something from all this and find my God-given compassion.
"As for those who seemed to be important — whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance — those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." [Galatians 2:6-10]