It’s Christmas Eve eve. I was driving in the desert. Yesterday. Seeing all those windmills. Before Palm Springs. Desert in the winter has its own beauty. And my heart ached for much of the drive. And Bree asked me what was wrong.
Thursday I read about a new study about loss. About when you lose someone or suffer a major setback. Or when something triggers you.
The study said that trying to find the silver lining isn’t good for your health. It said thinking too negatively or too positively can hurt your body.
Better to look at the loss for what it is.
Calling a spade a spade.
If it sucks say it sucks.
Carla is my eldest sister. She lives in La Quinta. She means the world to me. She was having surgery. Having cancerous tumors removed from her thyroid. The prognoses is very good. But still scary. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a more generous or caring person than Carla.
If you want the link for the article email me.
I like studies like this because I’m a self-identified malcontent. Always been one. I think life is mystery, to a large extent. Full of irony. Paradox. Even absurdity.
I taught Bree and Edison and Elliot that life isn’t fair. The toddler says, “That’s not fair!” Me, “Yes, correct, life is not always fair.” I taught them this so that when life isn’t fair to them, they are not surprised. So they don’t feel entitled. So they don’t feel things will always go their way because things will not.
Sometimes you flourish. Sometimes you ache.
When do churches decide to cancel church on Sunday? When it’s Christmas, that’s when. Thousands and thousands of US evangelical Christian churches are locking their doors this Sunday. Pastors and worship team staying home.
They canceled church this Sunday. Yes, this Sunday.
Christmas unfortunately falls on a Sunday this year. And that’s inconvenient.
But the overwhelming majority of Christian churches around the world will trudge ahead with services on Christmas Day — perhaps the holiest day of the year. Kids will have to wait to open their gifts. Or they’ll open before church. We did that in London; Bree had to wait.
Why does this all matter? To some it doesn’t matter. But every 7 years I find myself wondering a few things.
First, what do non-denominational, non-traditional (“independent”) church leaders know that the Roman Catholics and Orthodox and Anglican and Southern Methodist church leaders, for centuries, don’t?
More particularly, what do American non-denominational evangelical church leaders know that non-denominational evangelical church leaders in the rest of the world don’t?
So the largest Christian denomination in the world? Roman Catholic? Open on Sunday.
The second largest Christian denomination in the world? Orthodox? Open on Sunday.
The third largest Christain denomination in the world? Anglican? Open.
Other historical denominations like the Southern Methodist church? Open.
Non-denominational churches outside of America? Open.
What strikes me most about evangelical churches locking their doors and staying home on Sunday? These are the kinds of places where one is most likely to hear guilt producing messages about putting worship first. Putting worship above family. Putting worship above consumerism and material possessions and secular considerations.
I sometimes am skeptical of polity, the government structure, of non-denominational churches. Because there’s no accountability outside of that individual church’s pastors or elders or board or whatever. No bishop. No outside oversight. Decisions made based on market considerations.
I think tradition matters.
Bree and I have this ongoing argument. It’s about a classical philosophical question in ethical theory. Bear with me for a minute here becasue if you understand this problem, it has huge applicaion in everyday life.
Who is that happy/virtuous person? Mary or Ali? Which one of them is worthy of praise?
Mary is a raging alcoholic. A minute doesn’t go by when she isn’t lusting after having a drink. But she never drinks. She’s what some call a dry drunk. She white knuckles it hour after hour, day after day, week after week.
Mary’s life is one of total and utter inner turmoil – the lust to drink that she contains by her strong will power.
Ali has no desire to drink alcohol. Zero. None. There is no inner turmoil. No inner conflict. He lives a relatively peaceful life.
So neither Mary nor Ali drink alcohol.
Bree takes the Kantian position. Mary is the happy person. Mary is worthy of praise. Because of her will power. She is happy because she is proud of her achievement. Proud of her fortitude. Against all odds, her will is being exercised in a way that keeps her from destroying her life as a raging drunk. And for Kant, all that really matters is will power.
I take the Aristotelian position. Virtue is measured by alignment between your inner self and your actions. Ali’s actions of not drinking alcohol are in alignment with his lack of desire to drink. For Aristotle, what matters most is right action that comes naturally. For Aristotle, that is virtue. Aristotle applies virtue to other things like anger, courage and generosity. We don’t want to be struggling to be kind or brave our generous, it should come naturally out of our inner being, or “heart.”*
I ask Bree, “How can Mary be considered happy? A person who is miserable inside? — consumed and obsessed with a desire to drink, doesn’t seem happy to me.”
Bree: “She’s happy because she’s accomplishing something that’s so difficult for her.”
Anyway, my inclinations with respect to alcohol are somewhere in between those of Mary and Ali. And I’m glad about that.
On a related subject, I’m going to lose 10 pounds. Starting a public weight loss story on social media on January 1st? Going to show the scale every day.
Want to join me?
It won’t come naturally so Kant would be proud.
* Later addition: It’s important to note that Aristotle makes a big case for virtue being produced by training, practice. So this account is oversimplified.
A note on “Freewriting.”
Every Friday, I set my timer on my iPhone for 15 minutes. Then I start writing. I don’t stop. I write whatever pops into my mind. After 15 minutes, I go back and quickly correct all the blatant typos. Then I publish it on Paulosophia.
I started “freewriting” in the early 1990’s because I had read this short article called “Freewriting.” I was a horrible writer back then, with the most severe writers’ block. The article said you have to write WITHOUT STOPPING. For a fixed period of time. Even if you have to write the same word over and over again. Over time, you get better, and more confident.
Writing becomes as easy as talking.
I can’t count how many freewriting exercises I’ve done over the years. Thousands for sure. I still do them almost daily. My kids know them well.