The famed Dennis Mitton library...lots of words.

Category: Blog

Crumb – Learning Disabled Class…ahem…Neurodiverse

I’m not sure what this means. Chime in with your interpretation.

My wife works with kids who are learning disabled. For old guys like me, this is the Special Ed class. But – as an aside to the story – I prefer the term neurodiverse, and I preferred it long before it was the mot du jour in education. I’ve always thought that you are made exactly how G intended you to be. What is slow? Slow for who? Can’t focus? It’s how G made you. I want every human to enjoy G and the world according to their capacity to do so. There. My say.

So, my wife told  me today about a girl who goes to a regular classroom for science. Thinking of the Sharks and the Jets from Westside Story, and knowing how kids can be mean to each other, I wondered if other kids in the learning disabled class pick on the ones who go to regular classes.

“No,” she said. “It’s weird, but they’re totally supportive. In fact, if the girl’s late for science, the kids will all start yelling and make sure she gets there on time. They collect all her stuff and make sure she gets out the door. They don’t compete, and there’s really no backbiting like you have in other classrooms with clicks.“ Supportive and helping each other? It almost sounds like the first church in Acts.

“What about the girl who pulled the guy’s chair out?” I asked, wondering about another scenario.

“That’s even weirder,” she said. “As a group, they’re totally on the same team and will help each other out. But we have a couple of complete snappers. Like this boy. He’s helpful and sweet and writes the other kids notes every day. But when that girl pulled his chair out and he hit the floor with his butt? I mean, I thought he was going to stab her with a pencil. But, you know what? In an hour he might help her with reading. It’s completely weird to me.”

 

The Sunday Lesson – He Holds Your History

The Sunday Lesson

On most Sundays, I publish a short Sunday Lesson. It’s usually nothing more than an observation or an idea or an application from something I’m studying. I feel deeply blessed and deeply responsible for writing this. I schedule the posts to publish at 1:35. Don’t worry about the time: you can sign up to receive notification any time I publish something. Just enter your email address into the yellow bar at the top of any screen. I’m up for all comments and try to respond to them all. Be forewarned that I reserve Sundays for my family. It’s a work in progress, but a goal we’re growing into. So, if I don’t respond, I’m probably playing chess with my daughter or watching lousy TV with my wife. On an outstanding day, I might catch a couple innings of Braves baseball. With my wife, of course. It’s Sunday.

***

COVID – Glad to be done…

I don’t need to say it but I will: COVID has kicked everything to pieces. Many of us still wear masks at work and build our schedule around teammates who are sick or taking care of loved ones. People bicker like children about freedom and why the government does this or that. We can’t go to stores as we choose, and I’ve just started going to the bookstore again, after my vaccination and a blessing from the CDC. For a few months, I thought I might have to read the dozen books I bought last time I went to the bookstore. In short, we – at least in America – are living as if we’re not G’s chosen people, able to freely do whatever we damn well feel like doing whenever we feel like it. Lots of us mimic a petulant four-year-old.

 

Reading the Psalms

That being said, I’m reading through the Bible now in chronological order, using the Blue Letter Bible site’s Daily Bible Reading Program: Chronological Plan. It’s fun and insightful to read the Psalms and minor books in order alongside the backbone books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Today, I read a Psalm, and it had a quip that applied directly to me. I complained with a coworker yesterday, and he agreed: my gosh, we are ready for COVID to go home and to get back to normal life. He’s in the same susceptible demographic I am and agreed that he was tired of the whole thing. We did a poor job comforting each other: “Only another year to go,” I guessed. “Hmm. Hope so,” he sighed.

Then I read this passage this morning:

“Bad news holds no fears for him,
Firm is his heart, trusting in Yahweh.
His heart holds steady, he has no fears,
Till he can gloat over his enemies.”

Strong words from a man who often prayed for protection from his enemies.

But this spoke to me. I had an issue at work this week. Not from an enemy, but just a lousy week when a few things I was sure would go right, went wrong. Because of me.

But here is a verse to take home, to write on the inside of your wrist. Bad news holds no fears. Let’s be honest here: this in no way guarantees a winning lotto ticket or a safe ride home on bald tires in the snow, or a negative cancer test. Nothing in the verse says that G protects you against any of the millions of pieces of bad news we might hear. It’s simply an observation that, for the person whose heart is firmly set on trusting the Father, there is no fear in bad news because we know who holds the ultimate keys to history, both personal and corporate.

 

The Message

What’s the take-home message?

That’s easy: trust in G as the author of your history. As easy as it sounds, it’s contrary to our nature and enormously difficult. But a worthy goal to pray about, ponder, and grab hold of in whatever measure you can. Every day I ask for a bigger scoop. Be careful about what you ask for, though; learning and maturity come through struggle. Remember the words of Jesus: every branch that bears fruit, He prunes to make it bear even more.”

***

I hope you’ll pass this message along and follow the site. You can do so in the pop-up or in the yellow bar at the top of any page. That way, you’ll receive an email whenever I post something. Be forewarned: when time allows, I post a lot. You go also go here to read about what I do and why I do it.

By way of explanation, I label myself as an agnostic Christian. I attend a Southern Baptist church and am comfortable with Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and all kinds of Protestant thought. For Bibles, I generally use the Jerusalem Bible, the English Standard Version, and the Amplified Bible. A favorite verse is Micah 6:8 where the prophet says:

G has already told you what is right and what to do: do what is right, love loyalty, and walk humbly with G.

Selah and Blessings!

Angel Oak, Charleston, SC.

To the sea from Charleston

It’s a long, lazy drive from Charleston out to Johns Island to visit this gorgeous tree. Yes, it’s a tree. A single tree.  

It’s not like the sequoias, those West Coast trees that grow straight and tall to the sun, like perfectly drawn geometric lines in a photo. This tree is a true Southerner: curvy, and messy, and beautiful all at the same time, with trunks and branches and moss growing in every direction, all vying to be on top of each other.

It’s a long drive until you finally cut off the main road onto a country dirt road. I checked several times to make sure I was going in the right direction, not expecting that an attraction like this would be hidden in the woods, plopped down by G like this in the middle of nowhere. But it’s not quite nowhere: nearby we passed a white painted, planked church, and for a moment, it felt as if I were looking at a scene local folk saw unchanged for seventy years. When I finally sighted the tree, I was astounded. The main trunk was enormous, but it looked as if its branches surfed down and then out of the soil again in a dozen paces. It’s didn’t appear old as much as it did but majestic. This living thing had earned every hour of its life and shows the scars.

***

Kids and other humans who are surgically tied to electronic gadgets might see the idea of visiting a lone tree at the end of a dirt road kind of daft. Not much better than using the word daft. But if you have any leaning toward nature or awe, this is worth the trip.

Experts say it’s the largest Southern Live Oak known and is estimated to be five hundred years old. A mere teenager for a tree, but still impressive. The surrounding woods are dense and dark and ominous, and Spanish Moss hangs thick like fog. I walked the grounds carefully, hoping to sidestep any dead body hidden in the grass. 

Go here to the Charleston Park website to see photos of the tree.


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Evolution Explained, Part 1: A Philosophy Of Science

Philosophical Toe-dipping

Here’s a caveat before I start: this philosophical toe-dipping will be simple-minded to some, and profound to others. Such is the study of evolution. However, to build a step-wise explanation and argument for evolution, one needs to start somewhere. I side with Lewis Carroll, who liked to start at the beginning. Please understand that this is the briefest of outlines. There are lots of good books on the topic written with big words in long paragraphs. For my purpose, though, a short and easily understood outline is enough.

But first, a story

I went to a restaurant with a friend and his girlfriend once. It was Argentinian and in an upscale part of town. They were reading Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret and were as excited as puppies  about the book’s philosophy of creating one’s own reality. At one point, smack in the middle of a very tasty biftech au poivre, my friend shouts that the only reason he can’t slide his hand straight through my chest like a salmon swimming upstream is because he lacks belief, poor soul. I set my fork down, grimaced, and gave a deadpan reply. “No. You can’t stick your hand through my chest because of the repulsive power of electromagnetism.” I laughed, and he shouted louder. “Ha! This science crap holds you back! You see the world as you want to see it, and this limits you to nothing but dirt and blood! There are greater things!”

He was right in a way. Science is about descriptions and natural facts: dirt and blood. If we were to understand all natural facts, and how these facts relate to each other, we would understand the physical workings of everything in our world. However – and it’s disputed – if something were outside of nature, we would still have no way to understand or parse the thing. In fact, we would have no way of even proving or disproving that such a thing existed. It’s a tangent, but this is exactly why I label myself a Christian agnostic. And why I think scientific atheism is a ruse.

 

Two Worldviews

So, here are two world views, loudly laid out for the patrons of a charming restaurant. One – I like his words – is about dirt and blood. Things exist, and we can hold them. Firewood is heavy. If you drop that log on your toe, the pain is real, your toe turns purple, and you apologize to the kids for letting those words slip out of your mouth. Science emphatically requires that the world is a real place with repeatable rules. If there is anything existing outside the world, outside of nature, something supernatural, it’s not in the parlance of science to explain it.

Not everyone believes this. My friend doesn’t. Deepak Chopra doesn’t and has made a famous living by doing so. He and my friend argue that there are no real material things. What looks to be real is an invention of limiting beliefs. Belief enables imaginary materials to imaginarily appear. Substance, pain, light, dark; all these are inventions of minds who may or may not understand our true nature. I admit, though, to knowing a guy who refuses Novocaine at the dentist’s office when the dentist repairs a cavity. In his words, he knows the pain is a chemical signal in his brain saying that something is amiss with his teeth. This is clearly recognized as an evolutionary adaption: teeth are essential for reproductive success: we need them for gnawing, and any infection can be life threatening. This guy I know, a hypnotist, knows that pain is really a chemical signals and has trained himself to ignore these signals. This allows him to have the work done without deadening. In this case, it’s… kind of true that believing something makes it true. He believes what we know about nerves and pain and uses that knowledge for his purposes. I believe that science too, but enjoy to sleep at the dentist, waking up with teeth that are shiny and new.

Along this pendulum’s arc, these ideas that nature is real or imagined, are at least two different expressions of dualism. The most common is that some form of ‘spirit’ exists and interjects itself into the real material world. Mind is considered something different from the body, or at least something different from the atoms and molecules and cells that make up the brain. When we die, our non-material part, our spirit, wafts off like smoke from a blown out candle to a place outside of material things. The Christian bulldog, St. Paul, alludes to this when he says, ‘now we see through a glass darkly, but then [in the spirit world] face to face.’ He acknowledges the reality of the material world but sees it as a transitory springboard to heavenly things. A smaller but still large population swings harder toward spirit: that though material things can be real, they exist interchangeably with spirit, and spirit is the ultimate reality.

Even for the religious, science responds with a shrug. Its job is to describe the natural and material. If something can’t be sliced, diced, replicated, or reliably explained, then it’s outside the realm of the lab. So science doesn’t necessarily preclude spirit, but requires the same evidence that the composition of granite does.

 

A Uniform Experience

One way scientific explanations differ from otherwordly ones is in its consistency. Read through the Hebrew book of Judges, and it’s clear that, for these folks, G intervenes at every turn. Science can’t work like this. To understand the effect of gravity on a thing, we require that the result is the same everywhere at all times. It does no good for us to say that a Saab falls from the Tower of Pisa at a rate of 9.81 m/ss unless an angel is holding it up. What does it mean that science argues and examines from this view of reality? It means that the laws of nature are universally and always applied, also called uniformitarianism.

It’s experimentally evident that the universe works according to rules or laws that are the same in all places and at all times. We don’t fully understand the rules and laws – their discovery and explanation are at the heart and art of science – but they work whether or not we understand them. Where do the laws of nature come from? From the fabric of our making. From the nature of the materials that make up the universe. The world must work the way it does, or it cannot exist. Electrons repel each other. Why? I don’t know. What I know is that the universe would collapse on itself if electrons attracted each other. Could the world be different? I suppose it could be, but it isn’t. Are these rules immutable? At some level, the answer must be yes, or the universe couldn’t exist. How could gravity pull in one place and push in another? That’s not to say that our understanding of the laws is perfect, or sometimes, even accurate. It’s why we test and re-test findings and apply them to new scenarios.

As scientists watch the world and seek to answer questions, there appears to be scant requirement for something ‘other’ to invade the material world. This is not an argument against its existence, but only against its necessity. Some argue that evolution defies the laws of nature, that DNA mutations alone cannot give rise to the diversity of life we see through history. They argue that something from outside the universe, by necessity, must have nudged the process, set it in motion, that the odds are too great for even the first molecule to form. They might be correct; we simply don’t know enough yet. But this argument has been used for dozens of phenomena that were not understood. It says more, I think, about men than nature. In every case, the necessity for something ‘other’ is eventually ruled out as not required. I see no requirement that anything but the laws of material nature has provided the mindless constraints and energy for the march of life. I could be wrong.

Critics argue that we don’t know enough about the laws to understand their interrelationships, that the world is too complicated. Maybe so. But isn’t this the job of science? To discern what we know, and then, to stretch from there to what we don’t yet know?

 

To Sum It Up

So, to wrap up, here are four assumptions we make with a high level of confidence to do science:

  • The material world is real.
  • The material world works according to immutable laws.
  • The laws of nature are the same at all times and in all places.
  • Spirit is not required for reality to function as we see it.

 

They have served us well as a framework for understanding the universe, the earth, and ourselves. Many don’t believe this to be accurate, but, when push comes to shove, when one stands on top of a building wondering if gravity is real, every single human who has ever lived acts as if it is.

Can science and evolution and religion live in the same boat? It’s a pregnant topic worthy of a full exploration, but, yes, they can live together, and, in fact, for religion to be true, they have to. Augustine, I think, was the first to say it, but the quote has been ascribed to every teacher coming down the pike, “All truth is G’s truth”. From any religious view, this is true by default. If G is the ultimate creator, then everything in that creation can be ascribed to them, whether it be algebra, paper making, or evolution.

But can one result of that evolution – humankind – give an honest rendering of that science? And can the putative result of G’s creation – humankind – provide an accurate rendering of the god who made them? Good questions.


Here’ are other reads that help to explain science:s another good read that helps with the process:

Carl’ Sagan’s Baloney Detection kit on Brain Pickings. A good read!
Also by Carl Sagan: The Demon Haunted World.
The Canon by Natalie Angier
Intuition Pumps and Other Tools For Thinking by Daniel Dennett

Bagging Groceries – You didn’t know there’s a way?

Piggly Wiggly

My sweet ride…

Besides pushing the mower for Dad’s yard care business, my first job was as a box boy at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Fife. Somehow, I managed this coup a year before I could drive, so I rode my ten-speed down the hill past Patti’s house to go to work. And back up. It never occurred to me until now that this would be an issue in the dark or snow, but the question never came up. I’m sure mom would drive me.

Treatise On How to Bag Groceries

I wore a tie on the first day of work, and before I was let loose to do anything, the manager took me aside and taught me how to bag groceries. It’s a thing and, apparently, a lost art.

If you’re sensible, you know the routine: shampoo doesn’t go with bread or fruit. It’s heavy and leaks sometimes. Frozen foods go in the same bag, doubled to keep the cold in and to keep from tearing. Bread goes in a bag by itself so it won’t get squished. Do your best to cushion fruit and veggies, and don’t put any cans with hard edges in with them. Think about all this stuff when you toss the bags in the cart – or buggies as they’re called around here. Heavy goes on the bottom, and you never put anything on top of the bread. It’s common sense and courtesy, except that it’s not very common.

Once trained, I got the real prize: working with Margaret Kinoshita all day. She was a University of Washington cheerleader and, well, ‘nough said.

I’d been there a couple months and came in on Saturday morning. I loved working Saturdays. We were always busy then, but something about the air and smell and how clean the store was felt great. I was there to open, and a couple hours later, in the middle of the busiest time of the morning, a lady came through with a ton of groceries. She paid with a check, and I pushed her cart out to unload it. We got to her car, and she stopped me.

“I work for Piggly Wiggly,” she said. “You did a good job bagging,” and she sorted through the bags. “Nothing’s flat, and even the bags of frozen stuff are holding up since you double bagged them. I’m going to give you a good report,” she said. I beamed.

“But,” she said, and I felt the hammer hovering. “Do you work with that checker a lot?”

I was working with Margaret again and saw my chance to protect her, like a linebacker she cheered for. “Well….”

“Well, nothin’. Here’s the thing. You go tell her that I’m writing her up. I gave her every chance to check my ID for the check, and she was too busy or worried or dopey to care. We have got to check IDs.” She punctuated hard between each word. “You can’t believe how many bad checks we’ve let go through our lines. We have to toughen up on this. “

“I’m sure she was just being nice,” I said, West Coast Denn.

“Nice or not, you tell that young lady she’s in trouble.”

I trudged back to the store to tell Margaret, wallowing in my failed effort. I told her, and she didn’t care a wit and just laughed about what some old biddy complained about in the middle of her busiest shift. That’s what you get to do when you’re a cheerleader.

The Tweeter

Since these halcyon days of doing what the boss said, I’ve changed careers a few times, gone to college a few times, and moved a few times. I’m out of the grocery business now and living far from the wonderfully mild weather of Western Washington. I bake now on most days in the swelter of South Carolina. My wife squeals that she’s on vacation every day, and I squeal that this has got to be a kind of purgatory.

We have a Piggly Wiggly here, too, and one of my best friends is the manager. We laugh together that we both started with the Pig, but he never quit. I’ve had dozens of jobs, but he’s had one: one employer, one boss, one job his entire life. I shop there sometimes but mostly go across the street. It’s a little more upscale, and hey, I’m from Seattle. They are a bit expensive but I can get anything I want and – my criteria for any store – they have a good newspaper selection, meaning that I can get a USA Today. It’s the closest thing in town to a national newspaper of any sort. I used to get the Wall Street or the NY Times at Starbucks, but I was the only one buying, so they quit selling them. I’d like to complain, but there’s a flame in me that says I can’t come across as entitled. Anyway, I like this store except that they know nothing, NOTHING, about how to bag groceries. I could check out by myself but refuse to use the self-check bots, believing they will take away needed human jobs. It’s a caring thing.

The Boxer

But. There’s a guy here who must work the morning shift, just when I come to the store. He’s usually the only one there to ‘bag’ and I get him every time. His plan, if he has one, is to take whatever the checker slides across the scanner, in any order, and toss the thing in a plastic bag. Like toss. Like throw. If the checker stops for any reason – to check an item code, say – he grabs whatever item is handy and starts flipping it, seeing if he can make it land on its’ top. So, any bag I bring home might be filled with chips for the girls, a loaf of bread, and, yes, shampoo. I hope he advances soon to be the manager of the store. It’s my experience that people who are lousy at doing are often gifted in telling others what to do.

Of all the silly things about this, I got in trouble for his antics one day. My wife and I were checking out, he was bagging, and the checker stopped to read the label on a piece of fruit. So this oaf grabs my daughter’s can of PRINGLES – POTATO CHIPS – FRAGILE POTATO CHIPS – and flips it to see if he can get it to land on the top. I’m confused – maybe he doesn’t know what Pringles are – and very politely grab the can and put it in a bag. My wife watches the entire shenanigan and gets that look. That ‘we’ll talk about this in a minute’ look. She pays, and I push the cart, and she’s mad at me.

“What are you doing? Let him bag the groceries,” she says. “Did you see him? He looked at you like you were a dope. Just let him do his job. Jeesh.”

I laughed. “Fair enough. I’ll let him do his job. But I have one suggestion,” I said, holding up my finger and stopping the cart. “I’ll wait here while you go and buy another can of Pringles for the girls.” I picked up the one we paid for and shook it next to my ear. “This one is full of sand.”

A Job Offer

I still shop there but have kowtowed to the self-check robots. The manager watched me the other morning, probably making sure I don’t swipe the last copy of US Today. He finally sidled up and said, “Hey? Over there?” He pointed to the service desk. “We have applications. Fill one out,” he said, laughing. “We need you – we really need you – to train our checkers. You know what you’re doing.”

I laughed, “Brother? That’s a low bar. It’s pretty easy. Especially with this setup.”

“Dude,” he said. “you would be shocked at some of the struggles I see.”

I packed up and left, tossing the coupons that spit out at me in the trash, looking forward to getting home and timing myself on the LA Times Crossword. And thinking about a training program for baggers once I make manager. Nice.

 

Leave it to Wiki to save us: how to bag your own groceries.


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Perspective in Relationships  – No. 57

Perspective 57

So much of life is about perspective. I lay on the road a few years ago, crumpled like an accordion and with my brain bleeding. Today – semi-sane again – my entire family looks back on the episode with gratitude: the person who drove into me called 911, I had world-class care at Atlanta’s Sheperd Center, and G knit me back together in ways no expert can explain. Conversely, we could complain and let the event sour our lives. One fork leads to life, while the other leads to further disillusionment and heartbreak. I choose one path. 

You’ll have to choose a path, too, in whatever you do. In almost all things, there are ways to get about it. Some ways build you up. Others let you wallow in the same mud you’ve enjoyed for years. It’s become a battle cry for me: You Choose. And you live with your choice.


Here’s something to consider when we talk with people.

You snap at your friend, lover, or live-in and write it off with a hug and an explanation that you’re just out of sorts today. You’re tired and had a lousy day at work. ‘Forgive me? Just let me sit in the bath for a moment and I’ll be fine.’

But when your friend, lover, or live-in snaps at you? Well, the mind starts whirling. They are so mean-spirited. They never believe in you. They are always looking for a way to put you down. As much as you try to love, they just keep judging.

Or… maybe, like you last week, they’re just having a bad day and need a sit in a hot bath?

Looking at yourself, for you, it’s a one-time thing, easily explained and easily forgiven. For them, from your eyes, it’s always or never.

For more on perspective, go here.

Cheers!


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After 70 years, a simple treasure from Auschwitz

Hidden Treasure

I found this today searching for something else, and hope it fills you with love and hope and all things good.

Per an article from NPR, Nazis collected more than 12,000 kitchenware items from prisoners sent to Auschwitz. Why? What in the world would they do with 178 dinner knives? As part of routine work at the Auschwitz museum, a mug with a false bottom was recently discovered when it was scanned with x-rays. Underneath the false bottom, researchers found a jeweled ring and gold necklace. They are simple things but imagine the emotions of whoever put them there. Was it a father or mother? Tearing up, thinking of their son or daughter, finding love when this Nazi mess was over? What went through their mind as they slowly filed and fit the bottom so it couldn’t be found? Love? Children? A future? Hard work and the reward of grandchildren scampering through the kitchen? I hope that their reward in dying made up for whatever loss they felt here.

I have a friend who argues that people are only broken if they think they are broken. I can’t agree. I am sure the young Nazi cadet, touring the barracks and shaking dirt off his boots, would say he was doing a good thing while causing other people to hide this treasure. I am just as sure that whoever hid this, whoever wrapped paper around the necklace to keep it from clinking against the inside of the cup if someone shook it, knew they were doing the right thing, too. They can’t both be right. They can’t both have acted rightly. One had to be wrong. One had to be broken.


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