Thursday, January 26, 2012

Afraid and Ashamed - A Poem for my Wife

This is a small poetic offering to my wife.

Those of you readers who are long-time Anglicans should easily recognize the source and inspiration for this poem.

              Afraid and Ashamed

But, O my love, who all my weakness knows,
And my corruption, how it overflows;
How comes it that you daily send me out,
To meet with temptings manifold and stout?

Whence comes such holy strength and bravery?
(In view of my historic knavery!)
God's Spirit gives continuous assistance,
To make you brave and end all my resistance,
That I may be effectually restrained
From sin, and to my duty be inclined.

I dread your holy judgments, gentle lover,
In case my pondered misdeeds you discover.
But, too, with grateful sense I shall endeavor
To recollect your goodness to me ever.

Feeling thus, I craft this verse to send you,
Both afraid and ashamed to offend you.

© 2012, Paul Erlandson

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Okay, okay. So maybe form DOES follow function!

 The beautiful Erin Stern:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Mocking the Hippies

One of my nephews was kind enough to send me a copy of this DVD, Free Spirits:

It is the story of the Brotherhood of the Spirit, which later became the Renaissance Community.  That story is also told in compelling manner by Daniel A. Brown, here.  Brown was one of the commune members interviewed for the documentary.

Since my nephew had given me the gist of the story over the phone, I had prepared myself for an evening of merriment, laughing and making jokes at the expense of the stupid hippies and their stupid experiment in communal living.  But that is not quite the way it turned out.  Granted, I did Laugh Out Loud at many points, such as the description of "Toilet City", seven toilets arranged in a circle, so that the community members could continue their endless dialogue on the life of pure spirit even when attending to the basest needs of the body.

And there were several other times at which the folly of the community or its leader (Michael Metelica Rapunzel) made the documentary seem more like a Spinal-Tap-style mockumentary.

But I was sobered by the realization that I myself share the personality type of the people who joined this commune and put up with so much from their abusive leader.  My father noticed this trait in my when I was in my early twenties, and though I denied it at the time, I now must conclude that he is right.

How do I describe the combination of traits that makes me a candidate for membership in a hippie commune?  Let my try listing a few:

1.  A dissatisfaction with the world and a concomitant urge to either change it, or build a better one.  This is kind of the core value of that drives not only communal-living hippies, but is also behind the productive industrialists of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.  It can also drive people to become monastics, or revivalist Gospel preachers.

2.  The sense that "regular people" lead boring lives and are "missing out".  This is a close relative of the 1st trait.  It has some validity, in that the lives of most people leave much to be desired.  But it also comes from not studying closely enough the drama of the average human life.  We miss a lot, and assume a lot.  Eventually, we may come to assume that there is an ontological difference between us an the "regular people".  I think that this is incredibly dangerous.  You see it clearly in Free Spirits in the words of one of the children raised at the Commune, in his disdainful words (as an adult) about the closed-mindedness and limited lives of everyone he knows who didn't grow up in the Commune.

3.  The pride of youth.  Time has graciously arranged it so that I can no longer fall prey to this one.  But I remember one LSD-soaked Saturday in Central Park, circa 1979, when I asked my fellow acidhead friend:  "Why is it only we young people who understand, who are wise?"  In retrospect, this is one of the most embarrassing moments of my own personal documentary.  In retrospect, the answer is:  It's NOT, you dunderhead!  Get over yourself!

4.  Failure to appreciate tradition.  Why have traditional institutions grown up?  Why do we have governments?  Why do we have towns?  Why do we have any of the "establishment" institutions.  In general, the answer boils down to:  Long ago, our ancestors tried the "pure spirit" method of the Brotherhood and, thanks to some abusive personality like Michael, various safeguards were put in place.  We wander onto a dangerous path when we ignore what Chesterton called "the democracy of the dead":  Tradition.

5.  Attraction to charismatic personalities.  I have this.  I guess a lot of folks do, given the passion with which people seem to follow celebrities of all varieties, trying to fill their own empty lives with substance from the celebs' lives.  If you read the Daniel A. Brown article, please note the moment in which Michael invites him into the Community.  It puts a powerful spell on him.  Just reading it gave me the shivers, as I realized that I would have felt the same reaction he did.

My possession of theses "cult joiner" traits made me not laugh so hard at the "stupid hippies" as I had intended to, and that is probably a good thing.

I loved the documentary for several reasons.  One reason was that there was a good bit of film footage from the Brotherhood/Community, so the filmmakers did not need to resort to that horrid documentary practice of showing the same exact still photograph 50 times over, but zooming and panning to try to add some life to it.  They don't just tell you about making the silk-screened posters of Michael, they show you!
Then, too, the tone was very balanced.  Those who had left the commune, forced out by Michael's increasingly bad behavior, still had a wistful nostalgia about the Community.  The best and perhaps saddest remembrance appears in the trailer for the film, and is a statement to the effect that none of the attributes that had attracted the woman speaking to Michael at the beginning were present at the end.

Of interest to me also was the rock band that Michael Metelica Rapunzel started with commune members:  Spirit In Flesh.  From the brief snippets of music on the documentary, I had expected a hard and heavy psychedelic sound, perhaps akin to Iron Butterfly.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard this track from their album on YouTube, and found it to be almost 10 years behind the times, sounding more like Freddie and the Dreamers or Herman's Hermits than Blue Cheer:

I have to ask myself, had I joined the Brotherhood in its early days, at what point would I have left?  I don't know the answer.  I also ask myself what sorts of brilliant things this community could have achieved had Michael, its founder, been more interested in seeking to encourage to vocations of others, and less interested in pleasuring himself.  God only knows.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cool, Quiet, and Time to Think.

This article is chock full of gems, and is well worth reading:  The Rise of the New Groupthink, by Susan Cain.

A few quotes from the article:

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.
The story of Apple’s origin speaks to the power of collaboration. Mr. Wozniak wouldn’t have been catalyzed by the Altair but for the kindred spirits of Homebrew. And he’d never have started Apple without Mr. Jobs.

But it’s also a story of solo spirit. If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.
“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me ... they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone .... I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone... Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

I completely agree with this.  I have had internet friends that I have had to "unfriend" because they were brutal and constant in asserting that everything was teamwork, covenantal, and corporate.  That, indeed, there was never and could never be such a thing as an individual act, much less an individual act of brilliance or heroism.

Once, back in the early 1980s, I attend a church retreat.  One of the themes of the retreat was how we are always stronger as part of the Covenant (this was a Reformed Church in America congregation, so we used the C-word a good deal).  I'm fine with that.  I agree with that.  But the way that the outside teacher we'd hired to lead the retreat spun it, it sounded more like:  Decisions of a group are always better than decisions of an individual.  Committees are always wiser than individuals.

And so we played a little game to prove this.  A sort of puzzle was handed out.  We first were required to answer the puzzle (which yielded a score from zero to 30) on an individual basis.  We then formed into six groups of 5 people each, and pooled our answers together, filling out a new sheet with the group answers.

The point of the exercise was to prove that the group is always wiser than the individual.  But I rather ruined that for the retreat facilitator.  Although our group scored 26 of 30 points, the highest of the 6 groups, my individual score had been 29 of 30.  So, not only had a lone individual outscored all the "committees", but joining a committee had made the lone genius stupider.  Still, the retreat facilitator could have saved face, had he not made a crucial mistake:  He asked us to summarize what the exercise had taught us.  I won't relate to you what I told him I had learned, but it wasn't pretty.  I'm pretty sure I ruined his whole weekend.

In case you are wondering about the title of this blog entry, it comes from this fine song:

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I Was a Teenage Pietistic Dandy

This is a little film that my brother, the Rev. Charles Erlandson, made back around 1983 or 1984.  We did it as a project for an evening class at our church.  It was shot with a pretty primitive Super 8 movie camera, and it lost some fidelity in the translation from film to video as well.  Some points to look for are:  the giant donut, my old Vox Phantom VI guitar, musician Kemper Crabb, and my brother walking on water.

Part 1

Part 2

Friday, January 13, 2012

Captain Q and the False Angel of Light

Careful long-time readers of this blog may recall that in my younger days (from around 1978 to 1980) I experimented with LSD.  This blog entry mentions it.  That's what we druggies always say, isn't it?  We are "experimenting".  It sounds more dignified than "using".

Anyhow, shortly after I stopped using LSD, I wrote out a little "gospel" tract to hand out to people on campus at Purdue University, where I was a Mechanical Engineering grad student.

To read the thing, you will have to click on each image in turn.  Even if you normally would not read an evangelical tract such as this, it may be of interest to you, because it tells the story of my last two bad acid trips.

I have to say, I kind of miss that Ampeg Telecaster knock-off I'm holding in that photo, as well as the "Sergeant Pepper" jacket.  The jacket wouldn't fit me now, though, even if I still had it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cindy Phillips to Compete in WPD!

I just read on Cindy Phillips' blog that she has been downsizing her physique, and will be competing as an IFBB Pro in the Women's Physique Division.  She plans to compete in the 2012 IFBB Europa in Orlando, Florida, on April 27/28.  It will be great to see Cindy on stage again!

Read her blog entry here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hating the Success of Others

The proximate cause of my posting this blog entry is the hatred and/or disgust I've seen on Facebook for Tim Tebow, particularly from Christians.  Many opine that he should keep his faith to himself, that God is not sovereign over the affairs of the National Football League, or that he is a mediocre quarterback, at best. But what seems to be the common thread in all their seething rants is hatred of Tebow's success.

It made me think of something a good friend of mine said when I proudly displayed one of my bodybuilding photos on Facebook:  "Paul, nobody likes a good example."  I took it, of course, with in the same good spirit of humor with which he intended it.  But it made me think:  we really do hate the success of others.  We hate it when others have things that we do not, and especially when they are things that we are not and never will be.

This inability to revel in and hatred o the success of others is none other than Envy, one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
I remember turning the corner out of Envy and into the larger world of being able to appreciate the success and possessions of others.  You will not be suprised to learn that it came to me through the car hobby.  I used to get quite envious of those who had cooler cars than I did.  But suddenly, one summer many years ago, I was able to appreciate the beauty of these machines, and to thank God on behalf of the men and women who owned them.  It came to me in a flash how foolish I had been, and how impoverished my total appreciation of the world had become, by only being able to appreciate beauty and virtue in things I personally possessed!

We should be able to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15)!  Here is the Biblical account (from 2 Samuel 6) of one woman who was woefully unable to do so:
Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.  
They brought the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the LORD.  After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD Almighty.  Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.  
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 
David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
Let us be a little less like Michal, bitter at the rejoicing of another, and a little more like the slave girls, able to keep to the dictate of Romans 12:15, to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Walter M. Miller, Jr. -- Dark Benediction

Dark Benediction, by Walter M. Miller, Jr., is perhaps my favourite short story of all.  I say "perhaps" because there are 2 or 3 by Flannery O'Connor that I love with approximately the same passion.

SPOILER ALERT!  If you would like to read this story without first reading my analysis, stop reading now and go obtain the book!

Synopsis:  Meteors have fallen to earth, but they were not mere rocky projectiles.  They had been sent with hopeful benevolence by the beings of another race, with the thought that the "neuroderms" ("intelligent" micro-organisms) contained in the meteor would be a blessing to some other race.  Surely, the neuroderm parasites had been a blessing to their own race, granting them almost superpower levels of sensory perception, by benevolently changing the nervous systems of the host beings.

When earth scientists (actually an engineer, I believe) sawed open one of the hollow spherical meteors, the parasites were released into our world, and began to spread through the human population.  Unfortunately, besides gradually enhancing the senses of those "infected", the neuroderm parasites also turned the skin of the host a sickly grey, and gave them a longing to touch uninfected human skin.  Other than that, the "dermies" (as the infected humans came to be known among the uninfected) were quite happy.  Happier, in fact, than before they had become infected.

Those not infected fled from the major cities in a panic, throwing the nation into chaos.  The uninfected desperately did not want to be infected and have their own skin take on the sickly grey appearance.  But the dermies chased the non-dermies, with a sort of dual purpose:  (1) they took physical pleasure in the smell and touch of non-infected skin; (2) they felt that the non-dermies (the called them "non-hypers" and themselves "hypers") would be happier once they became infected with neuroderm.

There is a love story, and there is an interesting Church-based hyper colony on Galveston Island, in Texas.  I won't spoil the story and further for you.  I would like to comment on how effectively Miller has done something here, and that is to explain Christians to non-Christians, and vice versa.  When I read this story for the first time, a little over 20 years ago, it immediately occurred to me how very like dermies we Christians are.

The parallels are amazing.  It is a regular occurrence for instance, for me (and all Christians) to be treated as crazy, mentally-diseased people, by atheists on the internet.  They treat us as subhumans.  It will happen to you daily if you go to certain places on the internet.  And yet my testimony and the testimony of many other Christians is that we are much happier this way than we ever were before, before we were "infected" with the Gospel.  And, don't you know, we like to try and infect others, too, so that they can share in the joy!  And this desire to confer the blessing we have received on the uninfected ... well, it makes them fear, hate, or avoid us like the plague.

I think the convinced Christian and the non-believer can appreciate Miller's story equally, and that is part of its genius.  I highly recommend this story to you!

Theodicy Explained with a Cartoon ...

I found this to be interesting:

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Cell Phones in Church

While I really like the humor of this ad, and despise the ringing of cell phones in church, the Presbyterianism of the ad shows through painfully!  The highest level of fine should clearly be for a cell phone ringing during the Eucharist, not during the sermon!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

1958 Chevrolet Apache - Hallelujah!

I think that this picture, plus the YouTube link to the song, says it all!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hot Rod Anglican Buys Another Mercury Meteor

This is not the exact depiction of an historical event.  Nonetheless, it does capture the spirit of the many discussions which my wife and I have had on the subject of purchases related to my car hobby:

Note the reference to Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover. I highly recommend it!