On Socially Engineered Tragedies

Another day, another mass shooting. Same event, different location. Sometimes more are dead, sometimes less. The plot is depressingly and predictably redundant, except when it is your loved one who is sacrificed in the story. As various newspapers have pointed out, this is now almost literally a daily event. Part of the background noise. Just another news item to ignore as we work our 60 hour weeks just to keep our heads above water. 


Taking a stand for taking a knee

Like it or not, the #takeaknee protest movement has gotten us all talking. Unfortunately much of that talking is past each other rather than with each other. I have seen every conceivable reaction from both sides of this issue in equal amounts on my social media feed this weekend.


Following Jesus without God?

As many who read this blog know, I am a Christian priest who serves as a school chaplain and head of religious studies at an Episcopal Middle and Upper School (grades 6-12). My position shares a great many commonalities with being a parish priest. For instance, I am the "village vicar" and pastoral presence for nearly 600 students and staff, and their families as well. But there are significant differences too. Chief among them is the fact that my parish not only includes Episcopal Christians, but also Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants of every stripe, and every variety from Nominal to Committed to Conservative to Liberal. But not only does it include a broad spectrum of Christians, but my parish includes Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, and many who Secular and even Atheist.


What is worth learning?

Recently a colleague sent me an article summarizing Harvard professor David Perkins entitled "What's Worth Learning in School?" This is a worthwhile and incredibly broad topic, so I was both eager to read what was said, and also hesitant. 


By the Corporations, for the Corporations

Let's get this straight: Equifax makes the mistake, but we all have to pay their bill? Equifax had sloppy cut rate cyber security to maximize profits, and as a result millions of consumers will have be diligent for the rest of their lives, investing time and money (paying companies like Equifax!) to make sure their credit rating does not get hurt, and their economic identity does not get stolen. This may result in losses for Equifax, which could result in layoffs of thousands of workers, and perhaps even the end of the company in a worst-case scenario.

All the while, the executives who made the decisions to put profits over security will still get their bonuses. Hell, even if the company folded or they were terminated, their severance packages would still leave them wealthier in a five years than they are today. And certainly no one would see jail time, except perhaps some low level executive who was only following orders. The same is true for the Wells Fargo scandal of opening millions of fake accounts, not to mention the 2008 crash, or basically any white collar scandal you can name. The high level executives always come out wealthier (even when fired!) while the consumers and the workers pay the real costs.

And furthermore, huge multinational corporations can get away with it, but local entrepreneurs would be shut down and arrested. If the deli down the street was caught selling a few dozen credit card numbers and customer addresses, they would be jailed and the business would be shuttered. But Equifax can basically give away tens of millions of customer identities and social security numbers, and I guarantee you nothing will happen to put a dent in the bank accounts or lifestyle of the people in charge.

This is not an aberration of our economic system. This IS our economic system. It is doing precisely what it has been engineered to do by lobbying and legislation over the course of a century. It is not an accident. It is designed to "fail" in such a way that every failure shifts cost and burden onto the workers and consumers, while increasing profitability for those who benefit from such "failures". For instance, even if Equifax ceases to exist after this, companies like Equifax, run by people who are like (or perhaps identical to) those who run Equifax will benefit in the long term. Millions will have to rely on their services to protect them from the effects of what Equifax did. It's an almost perfect plot to create and maintain customer base. And once you learn to spot it in this scandal, you can see it repeated with infinite variation in other industries.

We the people need a robust system of legal protections that tilt the economy back in favor of the worker, the consumer, and the local entrepreneur, and away from the huge multinationals and the oligarchs who run them. We can either be a government of the people, by the people, for the people. Or we can be a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. But we can't be both.


Theology and Artificial Intelligence

This is a longish quote, but it was nice to read a Christian Theologian who is making these kinds of arguments. The context is an article where he is arguing that the "soul" or "self" is a transcendent emergent property arising out of sufficient patterns of complexity in information processing. Once this pattern achieves self awareness, it become a phenomena in is own right, capable of being embodied in other forms (i.e. organically, digitally, etc) even if it's originating "hardware" (i.e. body, brain) is destroyed. 

Trinity and Identity

I want here to give a brief account of who we are as created persons living in a reality upheld by the Triune God. There are a baffling number of images of who we are presented within the Judeo-Christian tradition. We are variously lost and found; sinners and saints; justified and glorified; children of God and servants of Christ; made in God's image yet destroyers of that image; created and mortal, yet eternal and immortal. We partake in the Divine Nature and yet are alienated from that same Source. 


On Poetry and Religion

The spell cast by good poetry
And the role played by good religion
Overlap in this

To make familiar terrain
Unfamiliar and strange

To experience the old
As new again

To listen to the ancient story
With the ears of a child

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


Eyes to see

If you don't believe

In the East's endless cycle of Samsara
In the West's Fall into Original Sin
In Nietzsche's Eternal Return

Watch TV's talking heads
Read your news feed
Stand in line at the DMV

And you will know

Precious few claims in religion
Can be subjected to empirical proof
Repeated, observable, concrete

But this is at the head
Of that short list
Of universal human experiences

If you have eyes to see.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.

So defeated

What so defeated these angry men that
Their only victory
Is in the defeat
Of their forefathers
Their only solace
Is in a skin
They did not choose
Their only hope
Is found chiseled
In cold dead statues?

Tell me:
What force can so thoroughly
Defeat a people?
And what Power can possibly
Overcome it?

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


On making images

When taken at their best
Even idols give us glimpses
Of the God beyond words
And reveal that uncontained Other
Contained in matter and mind

And when pushed to their limits
Even the most accurate prose
And the most inspirational poems
Become idols
Which damn and destroy

That of which we cannot speak
We must pass over in silence
Except we can't not
Speak of what we have experienced
Except we can't not
Paint what we have seen
Except we can't not
Pray to the One
Who calls us from Beyond

Just because words
Always make us liars
Doesn't mean we can't use them
To point to the Truth

Just because images
Obstruct the Light
Doesn't mean we can't make them
To reflect the Sun.

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


Idol Therapy

When taken at their best
Which is unfortunately far too rare
Religion and Skepticism
Are after the same thing
To smash the idols
Which ensnare the mind
And blind the eyes
And bind the heart
To oppression and addiction
To cruelty and hate
To death and destruction

And if you can ignore
The glaring exceptions
To these generalizations

So-called Western Faiths
With prophetic fury
Obliterate the idols
Which obstruct our eyes
So our Vision is clear
To see the Transcendent Source
Who lies beyond sight

While the so-called Eastern Paths
Show us that all creatures under heaven
Even the gods themselves
Are finite images
And partially opened windows
To see glimpses of the Infinite
Beyond yet within

All while Agnosticism groans
Whether and what God is
Is beyond what we can say
And Atheism bluntly declares
Nothing is God
God is Nothing

And taken at their best
Despite all their worst
They are all

Thanks for reading my incoherent babble. May strength and compassion and wisdom fill your life. // Nate.


The Letter to Diognetus

In an age when there seems to be quite a bit of anxiety about the place of the Church and Christians in the world, perhaps it is a good thing to return to our roots. Writing in the second century, when Christianity was powerless and illegal, an anonymous Christian philosopher penned what we now call "The Letter to Diognetus". In chapters 5-6 he lays out a breathtaking vision of Christian identity and mission in the midst of a pluralistic, nationalistic, materialistic Roman Empire:
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.