A Pressing Time

If the popular entertainment website Buzzfeed is anything to go by, then nobody really knows what it takes to be an adult. The website is constantly amusing its viewers with 41-pbfa9qxl-_sx320_bo1204203200_articles related to this dilemma. In the last month or so, I can recall two or three posts on the subject, the most obvious ones being something like “14 Signs You Are Really, Truly an Adult,” and “22 Signs You’re Really, Really Not An Adult Yet” (and, incidentally, I related more to the “you’re an adult” one, though I do often leave my dishes piled high in the sink). Confusing as the concept of adulthood may be to the Millennials, it is perhaps a bit more clear cut for the older individuals of Generation X.  A few years ago, I read a book by such an author, Gish Jen’s collection of short stories, Who’s Irish?, which explored themes of maturity and adulthood.

Pammie, protagonist of “House, House, Home,” certainly feels like she has discovered the answer to adulthood: “[Adulthood] has more to do with…finding oneself with responsibilities” (p. 207) But for me, her answer is a bit ambiguous, for just what are these responsibilities she speaks of? I should now like to offer my own perhaps rather ambiguous explanation of adulthood: to be an adult is an unpleasant experience—or, more accurately, is full of unpleasant experiences—and, I think, to be an adult is to fairly consistently accept those unpleasant experiences.

To be sure, this skill is one that the child Callie, of Jen’s “The Water Faucet Vision,” attempts to practice, with a dismal level of success. Clinging to “faith like a child,” she believes that if she prays and sacrifices enough, God will personally answer her desperate desires. While reading this, I was reminded of something a pastor of mine once said: “God will always answer prayer, and sometimes the answer is ‘No.’” When the child Callie is refused her slightest plea, her whole world drips down around her (in the case of the titular faucets, literally). I am not meaning to suggest that faith is incompatible with adulthood. Quite the contrary, I find that my semi-adulthood requires near constant faith. But adulthood, like mature faith, is made of “grit,” in the words of adult Callie. To me, one of the most moving passages of the entirety of Who’s Irish? is also at the end of “The Water Faucet Vision:” “Back then, the world was a place that could be set right. One had only to direct the hand of the Almighty and say, Just here, Lord, we hurt here—and here, and here, and here” (p. 48)  If you are an adult, you must not cry and scream like a child does when exposed to an iota of pain. You must stand, and fight.

This is why I do not completely accept the conventional accepted definition that to be an adult one must be able to pave one’s own way through the world. According to Buzzfeed’s posts, the main requirements for becoming an adult are the ability to pay one’s own bills and run one’s own household, and that to depend on anybody else to do this is somehow emasculating. Indeed, I cannot entirely accept this definition, because I thoroughly refuse to believe that Sven, the ex-husband of “House, House, Home”‘s Pammie, is an adult. Immature as I have labeled Callie the child, she at least had an awareness of people outside herself. She sees the pain caused by the adult world, and seeks to heal it, though through her admittedly misguided prayer life. To be selfish is the easy way out, and in Sven’s case, it is literally so; he walks out on his family. Or perhaps I’ve got this wrong, and paving your own way in the world does make an adult, just not necessarily a good adult, but one to whom negative adjectives are attached (a “selfish” adult, a “thoughtless” adult, a “foolish” adult, etc.)

But perhaps now I see the simplicity in Pammie’s own explanation, that to be an adult is to accept the responsibility the world thrusts upon you (although I would argue that, in Pammie’s case, for example, responsibility is very often the result of our own actions, whether good or bad.) This would, come to think of it, fulfill my original premise that to be an adult is to accept the unpleasantness in the world. Responsibility can often be unpleasant. Why else do children shirk it so? Why else, when responsibility is early thrust upon a child, we think it a cause for pity? Responsibility is something adults are supposed to handle, and when they don’t, or can’t, doesn’t that make them somewhat childish?

Looking back over this essay, it strikes me as rather a melancholy, or even a slightly depressing read. But the facts are there: children are born, children grow, husbands come, husbands leave, parents love each other, parents fight, daughters abandon mothers, mothers refuse to forget daughters, friends come, friends go, employees come, employees go, families grow, families fall apart. Some of these are pleasant circumstances, others are unpleasant. To be an adult is to stand, and face them, as best as one may. The “as best one may” is important, for even the few of us who are indomitable rocks can be eroded, given enough time. In the real world, there is at least some partial credit for trying. This is what would make Pammie an adult, and Sven not, a conclusion I am quite satisfied with. Pammie, like most of us, has done questionable things (notice I do not say “foolish things”), foremost being marrying Sven, but credit given where credit is due, she sees it through. It is worth noting that she does this even when the cards she ends up with—divorced mother of three—are not the cards she was originally dealt—artist, wife of brilliant professor. The outside pressed in, and she pressed back. That is an adult.

Why Music?

This article is by our guest author Caroline Bennett, and it is the first part of a series she has written about music.  In the coming months, she will be sharing music reviews, composer biographies, and music history articles with us as part of her music series.

Johann Sebastian Bach“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”Johann Sebastian Bach, composer from the Baroque Era

Music is underappreciated in society. To be sure, people hear it—blaring from speakers inside stores, rumbling from inside vehicles, playing softly in the background at restaurants. But looking at school curricula, where math and science dominate even over English, we see that music is thought unimportant in education.  Yet this careless attitude towards music shows a failure to understand how vital it is to mankind, for not only does its study teach history, but it also offers insight into men’s hearts, as well as draws believers closer to God.

Harpsichord
Harpsichord

One of the best ways to learn how to appreciate music is to study its history, seeing how it has developed over time because of the various events and cultures of the world. For instance, during the Renaissance, the predominate religion in Europe was Roman Catholicism, and so much of the music written was religious music for choirs. But at the same time, bards were traveling around to different courts, playing their portable instruments—the lute and harp—and recounting the important events of the past and present, since many people could not read in those days. As better education became more accessible, however, more people learned how to play instruments and compose music. By the 1600s most well-to-do families owned keyboard instruments like the clavichord and harpsichord, the precursors to the piano. The music composed during this period—called the Baroque Period—was vastly different from that of the Medieval Age, mostly because composers were making great advances in their understanding of music and of how instruments could be played. But because Baroque composers were generally Christians, even the most secular of Baroque works still aimed to glorify God and reflect the beauty which he had created. This mindset changed in the next two centuries, when many composers began writing music not because they felt that it reflected God’s glory, but rather because they wished to express themselves and be unique. Unfortunately, this attitude continues into the 21st century.

Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner

This leads to another reason why studying music is important: it helps Christians understand the philosophies of different eras and people. Up into the mid-1700s, most music was written from a Christian worldview; after that, many composers were influenced by various secular philosophers like Rene Descartes and Friedrich Nietzsche. For instance, Richard Wagner, who lived from 1813 to 1883, was a German composer whose music reflects beliefs very similar to those of Nietzsche (the two were actually friends). Both Wagner and Nietzsche believed that man had not yet reached his full potential, but could become an übermensch—“superman”—if he lived without any restraints, pleasing only himself. Wagner’s operas were, as a result, often about larger-than-life men who did daring deeds and lacked any kind of morality. And despite the fact that Wagner’s music was often bombastic, it had a powerful effect on many of his listeners and continues to be revered to this day. This shows how much music can influence its listeners—for good or ill. The words sung, and even the notes played, convey a worldview which, if only accepted and never examined, can lead to a twisted knowledge of the world and of God.

Pipe OrganBut just because most of the composers from the Romantic and Modern eras wrote music that does not reflect a Christian worldview does not mean that Christians cannot listen to and appreciate it. Wagner did write some heartbreakingly beautiful songs, and Christians can listen to them and rejoice in the beauty God has created, and thank him for giving man a creative mind and energy to create such music. For God gives common grace to all of his creatures; he makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall even on those who do not trust in him. He has given those who revile him the ability to write and perform beautiful music that, whether they like it or not, declares the mighty power of God.

The apostle Paul told the Christians in Philippi that they were to pursue after all that is lovely and edifying to the soul (Philippians 4:8). Most music does just that. One cannot study it, listen to it, or play it without thinking of how great and glorious our God is, for not only does it reflect the beauty that he has instilled in the earth, but it also reminds us that man is creative because he is made in the image of the Creator.

To make believers rejoice in the Lord—that is the ultimate end of music. And that is why Christians especially should appreciate it.

Education vs. Vocational Training

In my two years of college, I have experienced firsthand the modern higher education system. One of the most common complaints about a college education can be summed up as, “why do I need to take Biology and American Literature? They don’t have anything to do with my major!” This complaint can be generalized to apply to any major. There always seems to be a class that is irrelevant.

C.S. Lewis spoke on the topic of education in an essay entitled “An English Syllabus.” In this essay, Lewis compares receiving an education to training for a vocation and comments on the differences between the two. The main goal of an education, Lewis says, is to create a good man–to teach a person not only how to work but also how to spend leisure time–how to enjoy reading literature or make informed voting decisions. Lewis continues by saying:

Vocational training, on the other hand, prepares the pupil not for leisure, but for work; it aims at making not a good man but a good banker, a good electrician, a good scavenger, or a good surgeon. You see at once that education is essentially for freemen and vocational training for slaves. That is how they were distributed in the old unequal societies; the poor man’s son was apprenticed to a trade, the rich man’s son went to Eton and Oxford and then made the grand tour. When societies became, in effort if not in achievement, egalitarian, we are presented with a difficulty. To give everyone education and to give no one vocational training is impossible, for electricians and surgeons we must have and they must be trained. Our ideal must be to find time for both education and training: our danger is that equality may mean training for all and education for none-that everyone will learn commercial French instead of Latin, book-keeping instead of geometry, and ‘knowledge of the world we live in’ instead of great literature.

The entire essay is not long and is worth reading in full here. What I find interesting is that Lewis’s attitude is at odds with the outlooks of many today–vocational training is all most students want anymore. This attitude is prevalent among engineering types especially, but I have encountered these ideas even in casual conversation with barbers, old friends, and hard working acquaintances. Can’t we just skip the social sciences and dive straight into our core classes? Maybe this is because social sciences aren’t taught well anymore. Maybe students don’t care. Maybe both. Regardless of the cause, our modern idea of education has become greatly diminished.

Arbitrary and Inconsistent: Jedi Philosophy

In my previous article, I talked about how it was possible to defend Star Wars’ Galactic Empire and about all the benefits they brought the galaxy. I won’t be quite so foolish as to try and convince you that the Sith as a whole are sunshine and sparkles. However, I will endeavor to demonstrate how they are more philosophically consistent in their approach to life, the universe, and everything than the Jedi.

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For your viewing pleasure, here are the twin codes of the major Force using religions. Let’s dissect these briefly.

Jedi

1) The Jedi deny the existence of emotion. This is an impossible goal. All six of the current movies, we see Jedi displaying full ranges of emotion – happiness, sadness, irritation, worry – the full gamut. They talk about denying emotions, but in practice they do not deny themselves emotions with the possible exception of anger. (Even Obi-Wan was guilty of that one, however.) They speak of peace as though it is the utter lack of emotion. Again, this is demonstrably impossible within their order.

2) The ideal for knowledge is indeed a laudable one. However, they are implying that it is possible to get to an all-knowing state. Obviously not the case, considering they couldn’t see the Clone Wars coming. There will always be ignorance, and to believe otherwise is to court foolishness.

3) I take the idea of “serenity” to be at a state of “oneness,” as is the case with many Eastern religions. Other evidence shows that the Jedi are interested in being conduits open to the will of the Force. However, they seem to freak out if they are reminded that the Dark Side is also a part of the Force. How serene can you possibly be if an aspect of the very thing you tap in to and worship may have a will contrary to yours? If they were truly so serene, wouldn’t they accept that the will of the Force may be for the Sith to become dominant? To accept that maybe there was just the Force, and that it could be capricious or simply respond to user motivation?

4) No chaos. No chaos? Really? What galaxy are these people actually living in? They are surrounded by chaos. Admittedly, the Jedi are trying to beat it back. But based on the movies, most of them seem only interested in being in harmony with themselves. Many of them don’t seem to be too concerned with being in harmony with their fellow Jedi. Especially in Episode 1 – Qui Gonn and Yoda seem to be vying for Obi-Wan’s mind. They even enforce their harmony on non-Force users with the Jedi mind trick. All in all this harmony seems to be very…masturbatory and self serving.

5) “There is no death, there is the Force.” Well, maybe for some. It seems if you’re very lucky (or cursed, depending on your perspective) you might get to hang around as some sort of Force ghost after you die. There are three instances of these on film. However, LOTS of Jedi died in the prequel trilogy, and never showed back up. And what about those who have no connection to the Force? Are you going to tell them that there’s no death too?

Okay. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Jedi abandoned that code after the Old Republic era. (These two codes are from the video game Knights of the Old Republic, after all.) What about the Jedi Code in Luke Skywalker’s day? Here’s the code put forth by Luke once he started training Jedi in the novels:

Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect.
Jedi respect all life, in any form.
Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.
So, once again, let’s examine these:
1) Guardians of peace in the galaxy. That’s odd. They were generals in a war to prevent systems from leaving the Galactic Republic willingly. How were they the guardians of peace if they refused to allow systems that were brought into the Republic by their own will leave by their own will? How were they safeguarding peace by plotting to murder Chancellor Palpatine in cold blood if he did things the Jedi Council didn’t like? How is it safeguarding peace to join a terrorist group intent on destroying a legitimately established government that the bulk of the galaxy seemed to welcome?
2) Defend and protect. Who or what, exactly? Their own interests, certainly, but with this blanket statement no Jedi could ever do anything to defend or protect anyone. By protecting one, the Jedi would necessarily be opposing and attacking another. How does a Jedi deal with the struggle of natural law and rule by power? There is nothing in this statement that establishes priorities, so by its own lack of definition renders itself useless.
3) “Respect all life, in any form.” Unless you happen to be one of the billions of clones who were sent into battle by the Jedi against the droid armies. Speaking of which, why are the Jedi using human soldiers to begin with and not droids? Could it be that the Separatists in the prequel trilogy actually valued sentient life more than the Jedi and the Republic? Also, how is it respectful to use the Jedi mind trick to make sentient beings do something completely contrary to their own will, self-interest, or beliefs? (And why does it only not work on major crime bosses and robber-baron tradesmen on Tatooine?)
4) “Serve others rather than ruling over them.” So, why was there a Jedi council, then? Why were Jedi sought as arbitrators if they were to have no authority to make or enforce decisions? Both of these questions are highlighted by the completely arbitrary nature of the Jedi Council in the prequel films. Jedi are told to submit themselves to the council, but there seem to be no repercussions for not doing so. In fact, there never seem to be any sort of necessary reports made to said council. Cut off someone’s hand in a bar? Nah, we don’t need to know about any of that. Just listen to us prattle on before ignoring us again. Still though, in all practicality Jedi did rule over people. Nobody seemed to question their authority as long as they had a lightsaber, the maniacs. In actual fact, they enforced rule through the threat of violence. The major difference is they had a better PR campaign than the Sith, and tried to make it seem as though Jedi should use their light sabers as a last resort. Again, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith showed that perception to be false.
5) “Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.” Unless, of course that knowledge or training could be considered dangerous. Unless, of course that knowledge led to the Dark Side of the Force, which doesn’t make any pretentions about being emotionless gurus of “good.”
                                                The Sith
The Sith are always made out to be the bad guys in the movies, games and novels – and based on some of their actions, so they should be. However, an examination of their code reveals that it is not intrinsically evil. More than that their code is shown to be far more realistic and consistent than those of the Jedi. Let us examine them.
1) “Peace is a lie, there is only passion.” This code, we may assume, was made in response to that of the Jedi – as the Sith did not exist until after the Dark Jedi were exiled to the planet Korriban. Based on that common understanding of peace to be lack of emotion, the Sith rightly disdain the idea. An absence of political war may be present, but the Sith recognize that emotions are constantly changing. They acknowledge that there is a constant inner struggle that not only is worthy of being waged, but must be waged if one is to improve by any conceivable metric. The Sith also acknowledge that conflict is not just the way of the hearts of men, but the way of the whole universe. To quote one Sith academic, “Without strife, there is stagnation.” While this can easily lead to snap decisions and brutality if it is interpreted as “do as thou wilt,” it is not a blanket statement justifying impulsiveness. It merely acknowledges that we are all emotional beings, and our emotions will never be gone from us completely.
2) “Through passion, I gain strength.” Because of sentient beings’ passions, they act. They do not sit back and idle away time if they are passionate about something, they act based upon what they believe in – what motivates them. They seek to fulfill or validate their passions, which leads to some sort of strength. This strength may be physical, mental, or hypothetically even moral. Sith see themselves as seekers of new knowledge and experiences, not shepherds to prevent others from seeking their own answers. They do not condemn those who find new paths to strength.
3) “Through strength, I gain power.” Power is a natural outgrowth of strength. It is power to affect change – again through body, mind, spirit, etc. People respect power, but will follow longer if their passions align with their leaders’. This leads us back to the natural progression of passion to strength to power.
4) “Through power, I gain victory.” This victory may be a visible military conquest or an inner conquest of the self. It may be the power to deny yourself an indulgence in order to achieve something greater. These victories may be personal, not just the ones that are visibly shared.
5) “Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me.” This last step is one of self-actualization based upon previous victories. While power and victory are inherently a personal pursuit (as they so often are) there are many benefits that may befall others due to personal victories. The idea here is that boundaries are broken so that the Sith may act as they see fit – even, perhaps, as they should based upon the struggle and its rewards. This is why so many Sith either hate mercy or simply do not show it: they believe that mercy would set one back on the path to victory and self-realization. To not allow something its fight to improve would be as good as killing the being itself to their minds.
All in all, these tenets are self-contained and not contradictory. As opposed, once again, to the tennets of the Jedi. The intriguing thing is, such as these Sith teachings are, they are not in and of themselves evil. While the Sith did do evil things, you cannot argue that their teachings are schizophrenic or that Sith themselves are not capable of following this code. One can fairly level that charge of the teachings of the Jedi.
Only-a-Sith-Deals-in-Absolutes
Okay, so I couldn’t resist that shot again. But when ideological opponents metaphorically put their heads in the noose, it’s hard to not kick the chair.

Misconceptions in Programming

Having been in college for the past 41 months in pursuit of a CIS (Computer Information Systems) degree, I fancied myself somewhat knowledgeable in the area computers and (to a very small degree) programming. However, courtesy of a class that I have had the good fortune to be enrolled in, my views on computer programming have shifted, and that is what I would like to share today. The views expressed in the following paragraphs do not ONLY apply to computer programming, so even if you don’t have the slightest interest in computer code hopefully you can still find this short post somewhat interesting.

So, to begin with…some history. For most of the time that I have spent in college my number 1 question related to programming has been:

What programming language should I learn?

I asked teachers, recruiters, other programmers, receiving almost as many answers as the number of people that I approached. This pretty much described my life up until the beginning of this past quarter (started around Dec 1st of 2014) when I began taking computer science 120: intro to programming, and this brings me to my first point:TitleImage_Python

Programming is NOT about the language

Just like spoken words are not the main point of communication (communicating is), neither are the languages of computer programming the main point of software development. Spoken languages exist to facilitate the communication of ideas, truths, and emotions. Similarly, programming languages simply exist for the communication and creation of ideas and content. Think about it for a moment: the code behind Google Maps exists to represent reality (the geographic and topological layout of the globe) to enable people to get directions and find their way from one place to another. For years all I thought about was, “Which language should I learn to make myself marketable as an IT professional?”. However, the right question would be, “How can I better prepare myself to solve real world problems with a computer?”. As with spoken language, the ideas and logic that provide the foundation of meaning and purpose matter much more than the specific linguistic way it is finally expressed (e.g. Spanish vs. English). Ultimately, programming is all about problem solving just like engineering, theology, art, philosophy, plumbing, trash pick-up, and politics. In the computer science class I am currently enrolled in, the professor stresses the problem solving strategies and ways of approaching problems much more than the specific language we are using (Java).

However, this brings me to my second point:

Programming is an art form…

…like painting, sculpture, or music. After all, the purpose of visual and musical art is to communicate ideas and represent reality. Michelangelo didn’t create his amazing sculptures without some intention of them representing how people really looked and felt, and Bach didn’t write his music without intending to communicate and represent real emotions to his audience. Going back to my Google Maps example, the code behind the online service was written to mimic and represent the reality of the road systems of the world. Some artists paint on canvases, or with notes, or in languages (literary), but programmers paint in code. Just as the medium that Michelangelo chose to communicate (pencil, paint, sculpture) mattered much less than what he was trying to say, so the language used by programmers takes second stage to what they are trying to communicate/accomplish.

Do you want to be a programmer? To paint on a virtual canvas that millions (and maybe even billions of people) will interact with? Then learn how to solve problems; learn how to strive for perfection. Leonardo Da Vinci did not paint the Mona Lisa his first day on the job. Also, don’t be afraid to fail -without failure there is no learning. As someone who used to draw, I can attest that 90% of everything I created was junk, but that the ninety-percent had to be worked through before the good 1% (and mediocre 9%) could be created. Learn the tools of your trade, but more importantly learn how to communicate and solve the problems, ideas, emotions, and meaning that drive every aspect of human life. That is how you can become a truly great artist, engineer, plumber, truck driver, or programmer.