Ramblings: The Triune Universe

I am presently between my 10th and 11th draft of my new novel Retribution, time to come up for air and to get away from it. Breaks are good. I leave a draft thinking to myself, “Hey chap, you nailed it! A Pulitzer Prize nominee for sure.” Then I come back two weeks later, open the manuscript and read. “Holy crap! What was I trying to say? That’s clumsy. How did I miss that typo? Garbage!”

I’ve attended many classes in my search for being a better writer. I am encouraged to know that even the talented writers go through this editing ritual. One such famous author said, and I can’t remember which one now, “I edit and edit until I come to the point of saying to myself, ‘It’s still messed up but I don’t know how to fix it,’ then I publish it.” My ambition is to write one excellent book before I die, so I’m taking my time with this one.

I looked at the articles that I have in draft form here at this blog and I counted 35. I thought about brining one of those to maturity and post it during this break, but, I’m going to bring snippets from several under the general theme of the three forces or tensions that permeate much of the universe, including human endeavors. This is long, so I titled each section and you can choose if is something that you want to read.

Introduction

Four weeks ago, I was sitting on the sixth floor of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Many of you, unfortunately, have had to go there (but it is great care if you need it). It is a lovely semi-circular building of aqua-tinted glass, on a hill overlooking the most scenic part of the north end of Seattle, Lake Union, and the Space Needle.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Office Photos | Glassdoor

While I sat anxiously waiting on my appointment, anticipating the news that I was getting sicker and going suffer mercilessly and die . . . or I’m stable and will live awhile (the verdict is still out). You know, little things. Many of you can relate to that situation because you’ve been there. While trying to quieten my anxious heart (besides prayers riding on every breath) I watched the crew on the ground below building a fresh addition to the building.

On that day, I noticed the familiar pattern of triangles in the cranes, machines … and the entire universe around me. This started me on a fascinating journey, into patterns, like Alice stepping behind the looking glass. Just look for triangles in the photo below.

Introduction to Construction Cranes - Spanco

The Triangle in the Material World

The humble triangle is the fundamental form for engineering because it is the strongest simple form (see). It tempted me to say the reason is that we live in a three-dimensional universe, however, the triangle can fit neatly within a two-dimensional plane and still be strong. Put another one, perpendicular, then you have a pyramid. Maybe the engineers among you can explain it better.

We consider the Roman arch a engineering marvel upon which they built western civilization. However, it is nothing but a row of triangles with their hypotenuses in line.

A decade ago, a local bridge over I-5 fell into the river after a truck struck and broke just one of those triangles.

Balsa and Basswood Arch Bridge – Garrett's Bridges: Resources to Help You  Build a Model Bridge
Triangles within Arch Formation

While the triangle is one of the most common shapes in nature (see), there are other mysterious patterns such as the Fibonacci sequence (see).

Reception of the Roman Arch Monument | April 2018 (122.2) | American  Journal of Archaeology
The Roman Arch

While one could argue these complex mathematical constructs in nature results from a very long period and random chance, or that humans have evolved to the point of imposing order on things they see, which have no intrinsic order, for me, they speak loudly of an universe with design. As I’ve said many times, mathematics is the native tongue of God. If you are a mystic, either atheistic-mystic, or theistic-mystic you cannot ignore the fact that this fabric of the universe is written in a mysterious code. The consistency of this math allows us to land a 2,000 lb SUV on a precise location in the Jezero Crater, or to discover new particles in physics using equations without experimentation. This grand order comforts me, even when facing serious news.

Besides the presences of triangles throughout physical nature, you can also examine most human endeavors through the prism of the triad of forces. Triangles are everywhere within the subjective and the objective. I may be oversimplifying these issues, but maybe that’s a good thing.

The Human Psyche/Soul (the words are from the same Greek root as do spiritual and emotional)

We humans have three basic parts, often in tension. The biological, emotional (aka spiritual), and reason. While the biologic is the superstructure of them all, reason is perceives and make sense of the external world, and emotions are there to enjoy or fear what reason learns.

Unfortunately, we run into most of our troubles when we allow emotions make sense of the world (emotional reasoning). Men beat their wives when they allow emotions to tell them that the wife is threatening to them (because they see the wife as better than themselves). The teenaged girl jumps off a high bridge when her boyfriend leaves her, via emotional reasoning, thinking that she is worthless and will never be happy again.

I know for mean, as much as I struggle against the flesh (the cancer in the material) I struggle in this emotional realm. It is a battle to maintain a sense of self-worth when I’ve lost my physical stamina and professional career. It is my emotional reasoning that is enticing.

The biological force can throw a wrench into the whole being when it does not function well. Many forms of mental illness have such a biological base, such as schizophrenia or chronic depression. So, there is a tension within along those three lines.

Theologically

Christian apologists argue that the fact the Christian God has three balancing parts, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, sets it apart from other religions and makes it more congruent with what we see in the material world. Rather than arguing for or against that position here, I will pivot and go to another topic entirely, using the Triune God argument only as a segue.

About twenty years ago, I attended a lecture by a professor of philosophy and comparative religions at Harvard. This man, while raised as a Hindu in Delhi, converted to Christianity. The title of his lecture was something like “The Superiority of the Christian Triune God.”

A Word About Harvard (here comes the awkward segue)

What drew me to this professor’s lecture wasn’t the topic as much as the man’s association with the university. Harvard is another one of those sacred places in my mind, having been on the campus only twice. The reason is, the motto for the college is “veritas,” meaning truth, or the pursuit of. I love truth, meaning that which is consistent with reality. I rubbed John Harvard’s brass foot as an act of a pilgrimage on my first visit.

John Harvard was a Puritan pastor and relic of the enlightenment. While he was dying in 1636 from TB, he gave a verbal will, donating his orchard, money, and crate of 400 books for the formation of the college. Those 400 books (you can see the original 1636 book catalogue of the donation here) were books of theology, science and literature. The books represented John’s own pursuit of truth and thus the motto of the school.

I know this is hard to imagine in this age of when evangelical Christianity has an anti-reason bias and is against objective truth, however, Harvard’s pursuit of truth, love of knowledge and science, was not despite his Christianity … but the result of.

This Harvard professor, twenty years ago, said something interesting, but totally missed the point. He used the example of the American army’s successful invasion of Iraq as proof of the superiority of the Christian triune God, the nature of the trinity reflected in nature. In summary, the American bombs, missiles, and bullets were so accurate because they could triangulate their targets, while the Iraqis fired randomly. The latter serving a monotheistic god.

The use of the mathematical triangle makes bombings precise (most of the time) through the GPS system. There was also a network of triangulated microphones which could pinpoint the source of enemy gunfire and thus return fire accurately. However, the use of such examples missed the point of humanity, or to borrow a Biblical metaphor, strained at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

During that lecture, I was sitting beside four Muslim men from an Arab heritage. I could tell from what they said to me, that they thought the speaker was saying the Christian God was superior to the Muslim Allah, because the Christian God is more efficient at murdering innocent civilians. “Why does such reckless brutality make one God superior to the next?” I tried to explain, that’s not what he’s saying but my words mute, damage done. As he connected to his audience, while he tried to use a rational argument (using the reason part of our psyche), this speaker unintentionally left a greater impact in the emotional realm by using such a poor example.

Politics

Of course, in America, we have three seats of power in government, the presidency, judicial, and legislative branches. Our founding fathers knew, philosophically, that a triune balance of power was the most efficient. Within the realm of political power on a personal level, there are also three major areas of tension, 1) Personal (Art of persuasion of the masses), 2) Money, and 3) Facts. The most power, unfortunately, often falls in that order, sometimes money first, facts almost always last.

To win elections, you must persuade people to vote for you. It takes money to persuade the most. Lies work better than truth, because you can cater reality to fit the voter’s wants or biases. This is especially true during our age of electronic media and short attention spans, where baseless soundbites work. This is how our society has produced the likes of Donald Trump, who is brilliant in using advertising and persuasive speech, and he had the money to reach the masses. So he could be a great success, although he treats truth and reality as extraneous. I’m afraid it may get worse, unless we figure out a way to put truth as the front of this triad.

Writing (applies to all fine arts).

Three forces occur in writing, art (creativity), science (technique), and business. Plenty of writers who are profoundly creative, who don’t follow all the rules of grammar (technique), and are lousy at business. Other writers who do fantastic at business (James Patterson) but, in my opinion, don’t have a lot of creativity.

I’ve entered creative writing late in life. I have tried to learn the business of writing the best I can. As I have entered the real inner circle of creative writing, I am finding the technology of writing (to have it published by a major publisher) oppressive . . . if not depressive. For one, the grammar has to be pristine. I’ve tried to be creative by (coloring outside the Chicago Manual of Style’s lines or rules of grammar) only to have editors smash me like a bug. But it is now beyond grammar. Now, there are formulas for numbers of adjectives, adverbs, nouns, pronouns etc. to have a “good manuscript.” I have three computer programs that look for these variations. But, if I want to get the attention of a major publisher, I have to play by these rules. The rules are so precise now, that people are saying that in the future, computers with A.I. will write all our novels and they will all be perfect. Lord, I hope not.

But it has not always been that way. Shakespeare created 1700 nonexistent words in his writing. I’ve tried to create one new word in a manuscript of 150,000 words and have an editor write me a nasty note, “You can’t do that. It’s not an actual word.” For example, if I wrote, “The bright yellow sun was dominating the azure sky with such an intensity that he had to drop his chores and get behind the wheel of his T-Brid and go convertibling on Highway 101.” The editor would send it back and demand that I delete the word, “convertibling,” although the reader would know what I mean. I find that sad. But If I had to choose, I would rather be creative than successful. I wish I could be successful just enough to pay for my expenses so I can continue. I love the work.

Medical Practice

I wanted to write an informative article on the good and ills of the practice of medicine, both evidence-based and alternative medicine. I base this on my thirty-nine years of medical practice, and now my two years of being a high consumer of healthcare. Yet, so far, I have not found a concise way to discuss my observations. But I could summarize and simplify it through this filter of the triad of forces.

The three forces in health care are the science (facts), the art (the humanity), and the business (or money).

Science Vs Humanity

Evidence-based (what some call “western”) medicine is bold on science and weak on art/humanity. Alternative medicine emphasizes the art/humanity but is weak on science. Both are the victims of the business aspect.

I had a patient who had suffered a stroke when a chiropractor manipulated his neck. This is a very rare side effect from such manipulations. The patient was in my office in tears as he was loosing his livelihood because of the disability (I can now relate to the depression of loosing your career). I asked him if he was going to sue the chiropractor. His eyes became as round as saucers and he said, “No. Never! I love the guy, he’s one of my best friends. We go fishing together. But I am thinking about suing the hospital.”

“The hospital? Why them?” I asked.

“It took them a day to schedule my brain MRI.”

The man had a deep personal relationship with his chiropractor . . . none with his hospital or his evidence-based provider. This is where art can trump science.

If my quarrel with evidence-based medicine is the loss of a personal relationship between provider and patients (It would not surprise me if one of my providers hope for my demise, just so I would not be on their schedules with my complex disease), I argue with “alternative medicine” because of their lack of science.

Alternative medicine often claims a scientific basis, but with testimonials rather than true science. They built true science around the double-blind study that eliminates personal bias (emotional reasoning) which contaminates testimonials. Most of the time they just make things up, “This works for that.”

I ask, “How do you know that?” The answer is almost never from a study but from a person, a guru in alternative medicine who said so.

I am most disappointed that alternative medicine practitioners often spread conspiracy theories to discredit evidence-based medicine such as “the corruption of big pharma.” I wish that alternative medicine was truly complimentary. I think evidence-based medicine has a lot to learn from them.

When I was a member of the American Headache Society, I was a member of the CAM (complimentary and alternative medicine) sub-group. I really wanted to find “natural” treatments for migraine, but those that were proven to work. But we did not make things up.

The Business of Healthcare

I would be naïve to say that business is a bad thing in healthcare. Would healthcare providers work for free? I think not. There has to be a monetary exchange to make it function. But it’s the misapplication of business that’s the problem. This problem with the business model is not greed. Yes, you will find a few people within all aspects of medicine that are overpaid (e.g. insurance executives that earn annual salaries in the tens of millions of dollars, a very few medical providers in both evidence-based and alternative medicine). But its not the driving force.

In a nutshell, the business of healthcare is now dictated, for the most part, by insurance companies. The original purpose of insurance companies is to level the cost of healthcare across society, as those costs skyrocketed. Costs were driven up, not by greed so much, but by the complexity of medicine (meaning our growing understanding of the complexity of disease and the treatments thereof). Things we knew about disease and treatment 50 years ago were the low-hanging fruit. Now, diagnosis is far more complex, as is the treatment. Before insurance, if a treatment was expensive, you had to choose to die or go bankrupt. With no insurance, you hope and pray that you never get sick.

Society has two ways of spreading out the costs, through taxes and government paying for the care, or through private companies and premiums. America opted for private companies.

You can debate the cause of the super inflation of healthcare cost, but the driving force is the advancements in technology. I am a perfect example of this. My healthcare cost in 2019 was over one million dollars. With my $15,000 per capsule of my present chemotherapy, this year it will be in the hundreds of thousands. It is because these treatments are complex and costly to develop. If it was not for the insurance companies averaging out these costs over thousands of subscribers, I could not afford it and would have no choice but to die.

I used to demonize health care insurance companies. After all, they caused the downfall of my own medical practice. My goal was to bring the humanity back into headache care. However, 70% of our fees were left unpaid by the insurance companies, plus the cost of doing business with them was overwhelming. However, watching them pay these enormous bills for my personal care has dampened my hostility toward them.

Here’s the negative influence that insurance companies have had on the delivery of healthcare. As a VP of a major health insurance company told me (when I was confronting him on this issue), “I lay in bed at night thinking about our stockholders. For every penny we don’t pay on claims, it is a penny we return to our investors.”

Insurance companies have a monopoly on health care. Health care providers don’t have clout to fight back against them, unless they are huge, for example, the University of Washington in Seattle’s insurance market, or Mayo Clinic in the Minnesota insurance market. For that reason, almost all private practices have disappeared. In the future, unless something changes, medical practices will continue merging into even larger systems. It is inevitable in this present climate. Larger systems dehumanize patients because of the dilution within the volume and for the sake of efficiency (the Henry Ford effect).

It is more than the insurance companies paying less to a provider for a patient’s appointment. It is a chess game, where the insurance companies are constantly changing the rules to their favor. The more complex the rules are for a medical provider, the more difficult it is for them to comply, and therefore more money the insurance company can keep.

Enter The EMR

A new metaphysical phenomenon occurred within healthcare in the 1970s. Malpractice lawsuits were becoming more and more lucrative. The lawyers were able to win cases based on documentation alone.

For example, if you were a nurse and up put the rails up on the bed of Ms. X as you left the room, but did not write that you put the rails up, then Ms. X falls and breaks her hip, they could sue you for not putting up the rails. The mantra was, “If not documented, it didn’t happen.”

The insurance companies have now adopted the same metaphysical reality. They pay for what you have documented doing . . . not for what you’ve done. There are x number of points that must the provider must document, for the insurance company to reimburse them for the visit. To document these things, the provider has to focus more on the record than the patient. It isn’t because of callused providers but for hospital groups to stay in business, the pressure to conform to insurance mandates often damages the patient-provider relationship (the art).

When I was a small boy, I remember going to my pediatrician, Dr. Brown’s office. You could walk in, Saturday mornings were only walk-ins. The doctor saw 40-50 patients in a day. He charged 25 dollars a visit and did well. He also had a relationship with my family and me, knowing me by my first name and what happened our previous visit. However, his note was one or two sentences written by pen, taking less than a minute. The medical knowledge was much more limited, treatments simpler. Now we know five times as much so diagnoses and treatments are far more complex.

There is much more to say about this, but I think that evidence medicine training has erased empathy (the art or humanity) by the science and the business. My dream is that we can restore it despite those pressures.

I will mention one more thing in closing about the way science has pressured out the humanity in medicine. It is from how they teach evidence-based medicine. They taught us in our PA school, which mimicked the medical school, that we cannot fraternize with the patients. Unlike the example above with the man and his chiropractor, they taught us it damages our objectivity if we see patients as friends (or see our family as patients). The fear is it skews our judgement.

In the later years of my practice, I made the point of asking about one personal (non headache) issue with my patients during our visit (e.g. How’s your son whose studying math). I would put that in the note to remind myself to ask more about it on the next visit. I wanted to see my patients as my personal friends. Maybe this is the reason I was never successful in medicine … from a business standpoint.

I came here to delineate the problem and it would take much more space to come up with remedies.

Happy Easter,

Mike

Headache Clinic, Update

As I have a few of my old patients who monitor this website, I thought this would be the best way to communicate. Just a few weeks ago I announced the death of our old headache practice. I am please now to announce that Dr. James Moren (my previous partner) will be restarting a headache clinic in Bellingham. You can start making appointments on March 15, 2021 at the following phone number: 360 392-2917.

Will I be joining him? Not at this time. It is quite expensive starting a new practice (malpractice insurance to name one) and at this juncture it would be prohibitive for me. In the future, if Dr. Moren becomes very busy and needs help, I may reconsider . . . as the state of my health permits. I am keeping up my PA license and certification just in case.

I hope the best for you. Most of you have seen Dr. Moren in the past, if you have not, he is superb in the area of headache management (board certified in headache medicine, which no neurologist in our area holds) and he shares my compassion for headache sufferers.

Mike Jones

Ramblings: The Secret to the Survivor’s Smile

The first time I came across the secret was when I learned that my dear aunt Helen, who was like a second mom and always inebriated on joy, had a horrible past life. She lost five immediate family members (three sisters and parents) before she turned 18. Then she married a man who did not want kids, and she loved kids. Like in a sad TV show, years later she found out her husband had another wife, and a kid, in another city. Painful! When she left this man, he tried to kill her. I will never forget that night because I was under the bed when he came to our house looking for her with his gun. My dad, her brother, took his gun out and they had a standoff in our yard.

My Aunt Helen on the Arm of the Chair in White/Beige

I can’t remember seeing Helen without a smile . . . unless it was a laugh. She found joy in every moment of her long life. It was a paradox, an enigma.

In college I met a holocausts survivor. She was so much like my aunt, constantly laughing. I didn’t take history seriously at the time and didn’t understand what happened in the Nazi camps.

This type of smile differs greatly from the smile described in the song, Smile. In that song, (lyrics below) the smile is pretentious. Helen’s smile and laughter were authentic. But this kind of happiness, the joy of the survivor, has a secret. It’s a secret that I’m just figuring this out.

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
For you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear maybe ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile- what’s the use of crying

To make sure there is no misunderstanding, I am not a cancer survivor. Mine is considered incurable. I’ve had people who don’t understand the diagnosis, say such. My cancer is like an old drunk man, passed out in an easy chair in my marrow. One day will awake and try his best to murder me. Is he waking now?

Multiple Myeloma will have a cure someday, and I may or may not live long enough to realize it. It is even possible that the cure may be here now. A few new treatments have profound initial responses, but they just don’t know how long it last. It involves reprograming the patient’s immune system (T cells) to fight the cancer.

But when I look at where I’ve been, I am a survivor of suffering. My story is not unique, as most of you have survived something dreadful.

I didn’t think I would ever leave the intensive care of a hospital two years ago. Kissing the mud when my feet got to touch ground again. I still love the dirt, the grass, the trees, the water, the mountains, the sky . . . and all that is part of this incredible creation. I have always loved the out-of-doors, but now it is intimate, its personal. Having suffered beyond what I thought a human could bear, the lack of such is profoundly delightful. That’s the survivor’s secret, having tasted the loss and having another chance at it.

I can’t even talk about my family without exploding with joy.

I was thinking about this yesterday when I drank a glass of orange juice. It was straight from Florida, thick with pulp. Little ovoid pieces of pure citrus ecstasy, that stick to your teeth. I love orange juice and this was my first glass in two years. When I first got off dialysis, a year and a half ago my electrolytes were so high, I had to forgo all fruits (including tomatoes), meat, and was down to plain noodles and oatmeal. Now, I can have fruit, tomatoes, can eat a little chicken but no red meat. Now, to me, a slice of a tomato is like the thickest and juiciest steak you can imagine.

In summary, I have a type of joy with the ordinary that I’ve never experienced before. I know what it is like to be without. That’s the survivor’s secret. But don’t say it. No, I’m not better off now that I’ve experienced cancer . . . it still sucks like a Hoover.

Mike

Health Update: 2/22/21

A brief update regarding my health for my friends and family.

I mentioned that about seven weeks ago, some of my labs showed that my cancer was suddenly becoming more active. It took that long to get in to my myeloma specialist in Seattle, which happened today. So, with all things considered it was the best news I could hope for.

There are several labs that mark the boundary of Myeloma. While one suddenly tripled (light chain lambda proteins), others have not changed. The verdict today was to keep on my same chemo and to just watch my kidneys more closely. At the first sign of further damage, we now have a plan B of new chemotherapies to start to try and suppress the cancer better.

It was a joy having lunch in Seattle with two of our sons and one daughter-in-law (and one newfoundland granddog).

Having received my second dose of COVID vaccine last week, I’m starting to crawl out of my deep quarantine hole … while still donning a mask of course. If you want to have coffee (outside) let me know.

Thanks for your concern and prayers.

Mike

Ramblings: Why the Mars Perseverance Landing is Sacred

I’m going to say some things that will sound weird, leaving many scratching their heads. But if you think through this to its metaphysical roots, you see that I’m talking about something essential.

Tomorrow the NASA Mars lander, the Perseverance, will land on Mars and for me, it will be a sacred day. I will try to explain.

I am profoundly curious about the world around me. I’ve watched every movie on Curiosity Steam (about 300). If I had the time and money, I would love to get a PhD in archeology, physics, math, art, marine biology, and the list goes on. My curiosity is intimately tied to my Christian faith, not in contrast to it.

descent stage

I really think the Christian church made a big mistake a long time ago when they chose the metaphysical position that divides all of creation between the seen and the unseen, and only the unseen has value. Within that mindset, you are not to be curious about the seen (including the universe) because it is unimportant, opposite to God at worse.

Most people would never admit that their belief in the existence of God is on a continuum. On one end of the spectrum is the certainty of God’s presence and on the other end, the certainty of God not existing. This is a dynamic spectrum where a person can move from one point to the next from one epoch of their life to another, and even from a moment in a day to the other. For me to say what I just did, makes some Christian people uncomfortable. Often Christianity considers 100% certainty in God’s existence at all times as a requirement. That “certainty” is usually on an emotional basis, “God is real because I can feel him.” The problem with “certainty” of God built emotionally is that it is built on straw and can easily collapse. That is why most kids raised in Christian homes … eventually leave that faith.

I’ve been most certain of God’s existence at the end of a long tour through a fine art museum, such as the Louvre, listening to a classical piece of music performed by a full orchestra, arriving at the end of a long equation that helps to explain more of the universe, watching a great act of selflessness to save another person. That’s where I hear God’s voice the loudest. The other places where I hear God are when I look at tremendous monuments of nature’s beautify, listening to poetry, reading a well-written novel . . . and sometimes a sermon. Our pastor has a lot of wonderful sermons.

The places I sense God the least is when I hear people lying, see endless wars, watch people trying to manipulate other people for personal gain as some pastors do, especially TV preachers. One hour of Jimmy Bakker would move me far along the spectrum away from God and Christianity being true, especially if he is selling buckets of food to survive the coming “Democrat apocalypse.”

It may seems strange that a machine landing on Mars brings me closer to God, but it does, for two reasons. The first reason, just the science of getting a 2200 pound piece of machinery 292.5 million miles, hitting a window of a few feet square. I’m in awe of the minds that God has given the scientists and engineers, and I’m in awe of the fabric of math upon which the universe has been written, which makes this possible. If the universe was chaotic, space travel would not be possible because of the unpredictable nature of chaos. That fabric of order screams to me of God. It’s at that junction that I become a mystic. I’m not a mystic based on the unseen . . . built on emotions. But I’m a mystic on the complex, yet profoundly breath-taking seen. If God made the seen, then who had the nerve to declare it insignificant?

There’s this weird concept in some religious circles that if you have awe about people or people’s minds, it is a sacrilege. That makes no sense to me because those same people, and those incredible minds, are made by God . . . if God is really there, and I believe he is.

I wish I could watch the landing live. I, like most of you, have waiting weeks for my COVID vaccine and mine is scheduled tomorrow exactly at the same time as the landing, 11:30 am. In a moment of insanity, I considered canceling my vaccine to watch the landing live. It is an incredible feat of engineering, placing that SUV-sized rover on the surface of Mars so far away. I’m so excited to see what we find. It is my hunch that one day we will find life. But to explore Mars, Pluto, stars, or the inside of our minds tells us more and more about this wonderful universe that God has made. Thus it tells us more about God in the same way that people study scriptures to know more about God.

For the rover mission check here.

Mike

Ramblings: The Mercy of Snow

A long time ago, ca. high school, I tried to write rhymed verses poetry. One such poem, began;


Earthward bound glides the gulls toward the cliffs below,
The bird, himself, like a piece of heaven, downward drifting slow.


The poem continued (and I can’t remember the words now) by depicting the seagull as it morphed into a snowflake, followed by millions more. The snow then became a metaphor for the profound grace that snow offers.

It snowed ten inches at our house this morning.


My father was vehement about snow, more than anything else … except possibly archeology. This was in Tennessee, where snowfall was more of the exception to a winter’s day than the rule. He reverted to childhood when the guy on TV predicted snow, or when it wasn’t forecasted, but he felt it in his bones. He swore he could see snow coming across the mountain, far more in advance than the weather satellites could.


On those nights of possible snow, dad would stand glued at our front door, lit Pall Mall cigarette between his fingers, switching on and off our porch light waiting to greet that first flake. It was customary for him to wake us children up at 2 a.m. if such a snowflake did indeed fall. If snow covered the ground by morn, then dad would become the little boy he once was, and as unpredictable. But joy would seep through the cold, plastic covered windows and fill our house like a Christmas’ dawn. But why does snow cast such a spell?


Dad’s passion wore off on me. I grew to love snow. In college, I found it in our own backyard, in our mountains above four thousand feet. There, you could measure snow in yards. I took up winter backpacking and spent many of the nights sleeping with my lover … the snow.


The zeal of snow drove me north, first to Kentucky, then lower Michigan, upper Michigan, and then Minnesota before moving west. Denise caught my awareness when I met her in Abu Dhabi, because she said she was from a snowy place, Duluth, Minnesota. We lived in Cairo in the middle of that northern migration . . . and it snowed there, once.


The magical thing about snow is the grace it carries. My now forgotten poem, described how all the “ills of man,” (this was in the time that “man” represented humankind) broken tools, and shattered souls would each be covered by a perfectly smooth, whiteness. It becomes Eden once more.

Denise’s Snow Angel, Greta Declares the Winner


Grace is the central message of Christianity, long buried by the bull shit culture that, like a parasitic plant, grows around it. Modern American white evangelicals pour profound grace on their own, within the walls of their fortified subculture, but render none, not one scintilla, to those outside their narrowly defined culture.

Mike’s Snow Angel


But true grace is exhaustive, that for which all people’s long.


Some of us yearn for it more than others. Many of you are like me, where you feel this underlying guilt, a pervasive remorse over done things, which can’t be undone.
I saw a poignant cartoon that made me chuckle. It was of a woman awake in her bed in the middle of the night. The caption said something like, “Just as I was falling asleep, my mind then reminded me of every mistake that I’ve made since I was two years old.”

Some of this guilt is real. We base it on poor choices that we’ve made. But often it is a false guilt over things which we had no control.


I am surprised how guilty illness makes you feel. I had heard it for decades from my migraine patients. They tried to teach me how they feel guilt. While they are lying in bed with excruciating pain and their kids free-ranging in the house; their sister-in-law has a high-paying executive position and an ideal home full of perfect children.


The guilt of illness comes in losing your job and then spending enormous amounts of money to sustain your life when you used to sustain that of others. Guilt comes when you can no longer keep up with people on bikes or trails. It comes when society stops inviting you to take part, partially because of your physical limitations and partially because of the social awkwardness you bring into a room. “Should we bring up his health?”


I will not continue to catalog all the things that can leave that tale taste of guilt in our mouths.


When I lived in Marquette, Michigan, when snows started in October and didn’t let up until May, it was a perfect world. I skied daily for six months of the year. Life seemed impeccable. But then in May, as the snow retreated from beneath a late spring’s sun, it was ugly. The snow became gray. From beneath those seasonal glaciers came the old lawnmower that had stopped working last September, the Fritos bag, the McDonald’s cup, the dead squirrel, the—now rusty—lost tools, and who knows what else. Soon, the spring flowers bloom, but that’s for another metaphor.


We become children when it snows because it lifts the burden of guilt. That haunting voice of accusation is quieted within that silent world. It is a spirt of childhood that I wish would endure. And it can.


I met a remarkable lady somewhere in a dark corner of the middle east, in some smoky teashop in an unknown place. She was an American who, decades before, had gone to the “mission field” as a family medical doctor. During that tour (and I won’t get into details here) she had a profound mental breakdown. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Philadelphia. On top of the failure she felt a profound shame, shame put on her by her colleagues, her sending churches, her mission board, and by herself. It was a long process of healing for her.


In response to her own mental breakdown, and her stint with serious psychiatric treatment, she entered a psychiatric residency program (training program for becoming a psychiatrist). After starting her practice in New York as a psychiatrist, she still felt a burden for those, like her previous life, who were living abroad and facing difficulties. Being single, she would spend her vacations traveling the world alone looking for people like me, who were struggling with their own mission boards, or those, like she did, dealing with culture shock. But the thing I remember the most about her was that her favorite recreational sport was swinging. No, not the Roger Stone type, but literally. She would seek a playground in Lebanon, Egypt, China, or wherever she was and swing on a swing for hours. I watched her, in her seventies by that time, swinging and laughing.

Image result for old woman on a swing


This is the childhood attitude that I seek, that simple joy before life added the weight. Where grace permeates all else. Where regrets, sorrows, pain and qualms are laid to rest under a blanket of purity and peace. Let it snow!

Update: Feb 4, 2021

Summary:

My follow up labs are stable. I’m still waiting on my appointment with my cancer doctor for our next strategy.

Longer Version:

I know that some people are interested in what’s happening with my cancer. I shared on Jan 4th that some of my lab values were surging. I made an appointment with my cancer doctor and the next available was the last week in February, so that hasn’t happened yet.

Without getting to far into the boring nitty-gritty, there are a dozen or so labs that give us feedback on the state of my cancer, a handful of most importance. One of those measures the amount of lambda light chain proteins. That protein is used to create antibodies. My cancer is of the bone marrow that makes that protein. In a normal person, it should not be above 26 mgs per liter. When I was diagnosed, two years ago, mine was 3,000. Those proteins were so thick that they gummed up and killed 90% of my kidneys. Most of my suffering as been from renal failure (and the chemo).

While most of the labs that measure my cancer have been elevated but stable, my lambda light chains went from 40 to 60 and then surged in January to 131. That frightens me because I am barely off dialysis and no one knows how far above normal the proteins have to be before they cause trouble. To suddenly surge tells us that either the cancer is becoming more active, or the chemo is not working so well.

Whew! With all of that said, I had my latest labs this week. I always have to brace myself that the proteins could still be surging. If so, it would mean an emergent visit to the cancer center before what’s left of my kidneys is destroyed. These labs came back with the lambda light chains at 126, so roughly the same. Certainly not higher. While this rise is concerning, it is not a medical emergency.

The good news is that my renal function test shows that my beat up kidneys are continuing to improve. My GFR has risen to 25.4. Normal is above 60. But mine started at 4. Dialysis starts at roughly 15-16.

Thanks for your interest and prayers.

Mike

Ramblings: The Great Divorce Part II

Remarriage

Last time I described how the divorce from objective observation of reality in finding truth, or some call it reason, occurred. But reason and science were slowly reunited with the church through a convoluted course. I wish that I could say that the church came to its senses, repented, and remarried God’s gift of reason. But that would not be true to history.

At the end of the Dark Ages, there was a growing disillusionment with the anti-reason approach to life. Life expectancy was about 28 years old and was a trudge. There was not a lot of art, music, literature, or science as compared to the centuries before . . . or after.

The Medicis of Florence were the richest family on the planet, maybe ever. They were so rich, Jeff Bezos could have been there butler. Their patriarch, Giovanni de’ Medici, wanted to find a new philosophical basis for life in Italy. He basically cut out the philosophical middle man, the church, and adopted Plato directly as the basis of life. But in this new Plato-centric philosophy, the all-important unseen things were no longer the church, saints, spiritual matters, and the heavenlies, but the human experience. The short name for his is humanism. It made joy, love, hate, reason, beauty and other human experiences the center of life.

Givanni de’ Medici (in red) at his Academy of Plato, teaching Italians how to follow Plato

From this revolution, reason was important again, resulting in an explosion in scientific observations of the world.

In northern Europe, this idea was the seed to the next significant movement, The Enlightenment. At least the protestants embraced this age of reason, and many of the prominent scientists and thinkers of the early Enlightenment, such as Newton, were Christian.

Divorce # 2

In divorce in marriages, it can be insidious, or provoked by an event. Insidious is where the couple “grew apart” over the years. The latter is where Joe comes home ill from work only to find his wife Jane in bed with his best friend, Larry. Or it could be where Jane finds Joe has been downloading child porn on his computer. Or it could be where Joe drinks heavily and then punches Jane in the face, giving her a black eye. The divorce lawyer is suddenly on speed-dial.

A major event provoked the divorce of Christianity from reason. The event? It was when Charles Darwin published his On the Origin of the Species in 1859. This sent shock waves throughout western (Christian) culture.

On the Origin of Species - Wikipedia

Darwin wasn’t a raging atheist who wrote his book to disprove Christianity. He started his adult life as an Anglican. By the time he died, he had evolved (pun intended) to being an agonist. All he was doing was making observations about the actual world, like any excellent scientist.

The problem was, while the Bible said absolutely nothing about the age of the earth or even early human history, the church had developed a certainty about those issues. They believed the earth was 6000 years old and humanity was created abruptly from scratch and all animals remain as they have always have been. Like their catholic counterparts who rejected Galileo’s observations of the universe, the nineteenth century protestants, rather than listening to Darwin’s observations, rejected them as lies against God.

From my perspective, all the essentials of Christianity can fit in a thimble. However, the human retooling and expanding of Christianity into a culture has made it so complex that you couldn’t put all their tenets or “essentials” in the Colosseum.

From my perspective, all the essentials of Christianity can fit in a thimble. However, the human retooling and expanding of Christianity into a culture has made it so complex that you couldn’t put all their tenets or “essentials” in the Colosseum.

Stock Illustration - Hand holding tiny man in thimble

I remember joining a protestant church years ago, and the pastor gave me a five-page paper of all the tenets of that denomination. I had to sign the paper, saying that I believed all of them, before I could be a member. I had been a Sunday school teacher for years and I couldn’t continue unless I signed that document. It was like those 100 items were the litmus test to prove I was a Christian. It included things about the age of the earth being six thousand years, that Israel was to be a nation, etc. I told that pastor that I did not believe many of those. He winked and said, “I don’t either, but signing the paper is a formality that our denomination requires.” I signed it, but I wish I hadn’t.

By the late nineteenth century, the protestant church in America and the UK (other indigenous churches weren’t part of this problem) collapsed into a defensive position, perceiving this new science of Darwin as their enemy. I don’t know of any science that took on the mission to disprove Christianity or the existence of God, but that’s how these Christians perceived it and it was based on this erroneous position that one essential of the evangelical church was that the earth was six thousand years old.

Meanwhile, the fields of archaeology, paleontology, geology and astrophysics were exploding. Most scientists simply want to find the truth by observing the actual world. The evidence of an old world was overwhelming. Because many of these things contradicted the six thousand year old earth as mandated by the protestant culture (nothing to do with the Bible), the protestants generated false narratives for their defense (example).

One false narrative is that the scientists have a moral problem. As one pastor confined with me, “The evolutionist believe that because they want a reason not to believe in God so that they can take drugs and have sex with their girlfriends without guilt.” Other false narratives included the scientist were making up their findings. I know this firsthand as I spent a few years with one of the creationist organizations. It was when I realized that their narrative was completely false, that I left them. Today, if you mention carbon dating or radiometric dating around an evangelical, they will probably smirk and say, “You know that’s bogus.”

The walls thickened around the protestants in North America as they took an even more defensive position in the face of growing threats from a progressive world. We have reached the point that the evangelicals don’t trust any information that does not come from within their culture or contradicts the tenets of their culture. They now have their own radio stations, own TV stations, own news programs, and their own political party (Republican), mis-trusting all things other. They do, readily, believe false narratives that support their complex Christian culture. For example, to stake out the extreme, those with an evangelical background are more likely to believe the totally false conspiracy theory of QAnon. They have now divorced themselves from the process of observations about the actual world and the rational deductions from those observations. The modern evangelicals (might even narrow it to white-evangelicals) are now in a position of being anti-science, anti-reason.

From my perspective, if God is there, and I think he is, then he created reality. The more we observe reality, the more we observe and learn about God. The scientist is God’s prophet, the handlers of that which exist.

Mike

Ramblings: Having Cancer is Like

Having cancer is like playing a recurring game of Russian roulette. They whirl the blood, or magnets, to look for disease … but you are really revolving the cylinders. You pray constantly that the hammer finds the chamber empty. If it doesn’t, you will be set adrift in a single kayak slithering down through a gorge of unbearable anguish and death. That’s what’s at stake.

While this morbid game is playing out behind the curtains, on the main stage you are, by faith seeking peace, by perseverance, normalcy, by sentiment, contentment, by mental discipline, living as if the present moment has no boundaries, and by hope, the fears that hide in the dark crevasses of tomorrow … are left unfound.

%d bloggers like this: