Monday, August 15, 2016

Social Media and the Tyranny of the Exceptional

I spend a lot of time on Facebook, some on Instagram, and a bit on Snapchat.  Particularly on Facebook, there is some tendency toward the publication of The Exceptional.  Exceptional (a.k.a, "newsworthy") events are favored by many:  a terrorist attack takes place in Europe, a politician says something horrible, an athlete accomplishes an incredible feat, a dog rescues a homeless person, the world will end next year due to (take your pick:  GMO food, chemtrails, global climate change, or fluorinated water).  We gravitate, some of us, to the very, very good or else the very, very bad.

But I love it when people chronicle the mundane aspects of their daily lives.  My friend in Pennsylvania had a cup of coffee at his favorite diner.  My friend in Houston smoked a cigar.  A lady from Michigan attended her child's sporting event.  A bodybuilding competitor photographed her breakfast.  A friend from North Carolina has the Cutest Grandson Ever.  Another fellow from Pennsylvania posts a photo of his beloved dog.  A woman in Maryland gives an update on her garden.  A couple in Texas show a new kind of beer they sampled.  A kid from Michigan posts a cool car he saw on the street.

I have seen many Facebook posts to the effect of:  "Nobody wants to hear about your workout!  Nobody wants to see what you ate for breakfast!"

But, I do.  I want to see your pets, your kids, your pool party, your vacation photos, your anniversary flashback photos, your gym selfies, your cute pics of your kids and grandkids, and especially your food!  In a world tyrannized by The Exceptional, I would like to see The Normal. Maybe it is old age catching up with me, but it comforts me to be reminded that not everything happens on the fringes, the extremes of life.

Give me a cornucopia of the common, a plethora of the plebeian, an abundance of the average, a multitude of the mundane, an ululation of the unexceptional, a surfeit of the simple, and an overplus of the ordinary.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ridding My Life of Toxic People?

I see meme after meme after meme on social media to the effect that I should:

* Rid my life of toxic people.
* Banish all negativity from my life; don't let it touch me.
* Guard myself from all possible emotional harm.

But the Saviour I worship did NONE of these things. His incarnation into this world was nothing less than full immersion in negativity. He suffered emotional harm. He lived and died his life entirely for toxic people. How can I do otherwise?

This painting (Ed Knippers, "Pest House - Christ Heals the Sick") is how I see Christ (and, prayerfully, myself) in the world:

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Marital Intimacy in Heaven

A few weeks back, I was pondering this verse while at the gym, and got a little peeved at God:
"For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven." (Matthew 22:30)
Given the blazing success that marriage to Cindy has been for me, it irks me that decades of development of emotional intimacy, the accumulation of inside jokes, the crafting of our own unique lexicon ... shared by only the two of us ... all that will be down the drain in the kingdom of heaven, says our Lord. And it seems like such a waste.

Why would God take all that away from us? It seems like a downgrade. In fact, it doesn't really seem like something our amazingly generous God would do. So then I thought: "Maybe he won't. Maybe I've misapprehended the verse."

What if ... God being overly generous and loving emotional, spiritual, and every other kind of intimacy with and among his people ... what if God went truly overboard with generosity and gave us that same level of intimacy seen in the very best marriages ... I say, what if God gave us that same intimacy with EVERY other believer in heaven? It seems so like Him to do that. If you look at the world He has crafted, from micro-organisms to galaxies, it fairly screams out, "Yes! More! All of it! Infinite! Yes!"

So, this is my current view of heaven, that each believer's intimacy with each other, and our intimacy with God, shall be like (nay, exceed!) the intimacy in the best marriages on earth. Rather than taking one thing away, God will give me 100 million times more! So like Him, to do that.

"Yeah ... I heard a funny thing.  Somebody said to me, you know, that I could be in love with almost everyone."

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Energy - A New Poem


For reasons God keeps hidden from the world,
He loves to turn potential to kinetic.
To take a pent-up energy tight-furled,
And change it into something most frenetic.

So walls of ocean water piled high
Soon crash the beach as waves of violent foam.
So high voltaic potential in the sky
Must flash to ground with no resisting Ohm.
So differences in pressure must let fly
Fierce atmospheric force, and winds rush home.

Thus in my members, when not with my love,
A terrible potential there is bound.
But, when at last with her I’m speaking of,
It’s loosed like lightning finding its true ground.

©2016, Paul W Erlandson

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Introducing ... the Jetfire Guitar!!!

All the way back in April, 2008, my son Eliot Erlandson drew out a quick pencil sketch for a guitar we wanted to build together.  We knew it had to be a kind of "Jetson's" type of retro look ... maybe it could look like a rocket or something.

Then, too, we knew we would build it based on some hardware (bridge, tremelo, and pickups) from Hallmark Guitars, since I own two Hallmarks, and love the way they sound.  Other than that, we didn't constrain ourselves too much.  We wanted a solid-body electric with two single-pole pickups, with the body being out of mahogany.

Here are some photos from our eight-year journey (in fits and starts) to get this concept of Eliot's brought into reality.  Today, it is a gorgeous, very playable electric guitar (videos to come!) with a gorgeous Candy Magenta paint job using House of Kolor automotive paint.

Routing out the body ...

Eliot cut the body shape out with a band saw ...

The plan all along was to have all the electronics mounted to a fairly large pickguard, and we stuck to that plan ...

Finally, the big day came, and we had the beast painted by Clifton Darnell of Darnell Rod & Kustom.  Fabulous!  When the sun hits this baby, it shatters your retinas!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Changing the Way I Pray

I'm changing the way I pray for people. In the past, I generally prayed for good things to happen to good people, for good people to be delivered from their troubles, and for bad things to happen to bad people (Oh, don't pretend to be shocked! David did this all the time in the Psalms.).

But there are drawbacks to my old way of praying. One of them is that I first have to determine which people I am praying for are in need of benediction, and which in need of malediction. It's a lot of calculation, with scant amounts of data, and well ... when you get right down to it, we're all worthy of God's curse.

So, I've adapted the words of absolution from the Holy Communion service in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and I pray it for all of the people in my life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I pray this:

Have mercy upon [them]; pardon and deliver [them] from all [their] sins; confirm and strengthen [them] in all goodness; and bring [them] to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

There are 6 petitions here:

(1)  That God would have mercy on the people for whom we pray.  We all need this.

(2)  For bad people (sinners) to be pardoned for their sins.  Of course this implies with it conversion to Christ as a necessary condition for forgiveness.

(3)  That these same bad people (all of us, I suppose) would be delivered from their sins.  Think about it.  Visualize your worst earthly enemy, and then imagine that person being delivered from all of his/her sins.  Wouldn't that be great?   Some of them (us) would scarcely be recognizable!

(4)  For those of us who have some good in us, that this good would be confirmed in us.

(5)  That the good in people would be strengthened.

(6)  That the object of our prayer would be brought to eternal life in Christ.

No longer do I have to calculate the goodness or badness of a person before praying.  This prayer covers it all.  Behold, the genius of the historic Book of Common Prayer!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

That I may know ... the fellowship of his sufferings.

You cannot reasonably argue that my Dad was anything but a great and natural educator.  For one thing, I still remember things he tried to teach me 45 years ago ... things which didn't "take" with me at the time, but which I am perhaps now just beginning to apprehend.

One such teaching of my Dad's took place over and over again in Family Devotions.  For those of you who were not raised in Evangelical Christian households, "Devotions" was a family time of Bible Study, discussion, and prayer, in our case, led by the family patriarch.  Think of it as homeschool catechism, if you like.

In our family devotions, Dad seemed to come back over and over again (annoyingly, I thought) to a few themes.  One of them was that Christians, as a Free Bonus for believing in Christ get to share in the sufferings of Christ!   Imagine my joy at hearing this!  I don't think I was unusual among 10-year-old kids in thinking that this was a very bizarre and distasteful idea.  My idea was a rather more Old Testament (as I saw it then) concept of where I believe in God and try to do good things, and then God heaps up giant heaps of blessing on me.  (Some, such as Joel Osteen, have never got past this 10-year-old's conception of the Christian faith.)  But my dad kept pounding it into us that our reward for being Christians would be to get to suffer for and with Jesus Christ.  
Among his chief texts was Philippians 3:10:

"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death."

But I think he also used Philippians 1:29, 1 Peter 4:13, and Colossians 1:24.

But I didn't really internalize these verses. All they really did was to make the New Testament a kind of minefield to read through, filled with the wonderful promises of God that I would suffer for his sake. I should not have been surprised. My namesake, St. Paul, knew it well. What did the risen Lord Jesus say to Saul of Tarsus when he first spoke audibly to him? Was it, "Hey, Saul. I'ma call you Paul, and we shall be best friends! I'm going to make you so happy." Not quite. It was:

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

And (worse and worse), here is what he told Ananias, the man to whose house he sent poor Saul:

“Go! This man is my chosen instrumentto proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Really? Wow. What a friend we have in Jesus, as the song goes.

So, I didn't internalize or absorb this teaching. Life went on. I tried to avoid suffering in the usual ways we humans do. I found interesting things to do that seemed to bring me joy. I learned to play guitar, and played in a few bands. I drank a lot of beer. I took up bodybuilding. I started making oil paintings. I started fixing up old cars. I got a cool tattoo. These things (except, sadly, beer) have all remained with me to this day. But for a while now, the joy seems to have gone out of them. The things which used to make me happy didn't really work any more.

I started to try to help people. Surely concentrating on making other people's lives better would make mine richer, and bring me joy? Right? But, in the end, not so much. In the end, there was pain and disillusionment. It was as if every new pursuit, hobby, or friendship was a bright door with the word "JOY" written on it. I opened the door, but inside each door was a kind of very long children's playground slide. I enjoyed the ride down each time, I suppose, but every time one of these Joy Slides dumped me out at the bottom, there I was, mired in the sufferings of Christ.

Someone recently asked me, "Do you think that by God taking the joy out of these things you used to love, He is telling you to find a new thing to do?"

I thought about, but I know the answer is No. There is only one way forward now. God has allowed me a participation in the sufferings of Christ. I seem most often to be in torment because of them. No, the way forward is not to find another JOY door through which I can escape the sufferings of Jesus. The way forward is to find the fellowship in these sufferings. That's what has been missing. The way forward is to beg Jesus to be in fellowship with me in these sufferings.