Part 2 is here.
It is the year 2089, and mankind has no secrets. Those were dispensed with a few months ago with the advent of the alpha-pattern attenuator (US Patent number 9,604,521) which detects slight local electric field oscillations due to nearby brainwave patterns and broadcasts an electromagnetic wave at the resonant frequency of the detected brainwaves in real time, amplifying them enough to convey their content to any nearby brains. So if you’re carrying an attenuator, anyone in range of the device - about 30 feet - can hear, in your thought-voice, everything you’re thinking and feel, in a disembodied manner, everything you’re feeling. And likewise, you broadcast your mental state to everyone nearby.
The uses for such a thing are obvious. One can learn anything that a nearby person knows as comprehensively as they do, since access to the entire thought process is granted by the attenuator. All communication problems and misunderstandings, other than language barriers, have ceased. Even languages have become superfluous for many everyday encounters for which thinking in pictures would provide all the communication necessary.
I like to think that I have a relatively personal way of doing theology. Even though the arguments I make will ideally remain universally applicable, the personal, individual- or group-level application is something I always try to make shine through in my treatises. Still, a lot of what I write on here is pretty abstract and abstruse at times, so the blatant narrative of this particular piece should be a nice change of pace. Also, this is particularly rough and quickly written, so my apologies for stylistic awkwardnesses.
During my senior year of high school, some of my friends in my class decided to form a band and play some shows. They were called In Case of Fire, and they were the coolest. I was more of a fan of theirs than I should have been, for all of the bad vicarious reasons. Although I didn’t play an instrument at the time - I was just learning bass guitar - I wanted few things more than to be in a band. The idea of working closely with people who were your friends to make art, and, on top of that, being able to make an impact on the lives of people you didn’t know via putting on a good show seemed like a noble goal to strive toward.
The reason these notions were so appealing to me is that I didn’t have a lot of friends during high school, and the few that I did, I had because I did some kind of highly institutional activity with them, like debate. My notion of friendship was thus something like “someone to do activities with.” The concept that relational contact might be an end in itself didn’t occur to me. Of course, activities set up by institutions such as the school would always be less friendship-creative, in this way, than activities my peers and I organized on our own. The latter seemed more authentic. Bandmates seemed like the kind of purposed friends who would be indispensable, irreplaceable, to each other, due to their shared mission. This is how I was going to make good friends - I was going to make myself indispensable to something they wanted. Of course, now this sounds like what it is - the creepy, oddly purposed ramblings of an underinformed high schooler.
I wasn’t in a band during high school since I couldn’t play any instruments or sing well enough to just do that. When I received my housing information for college, I immediately looked up my roommate on Facebook, and lo and behold, he had a band. 2 other people I found on the Internet who were living close to my dorm room within the building also played instruments. So naturally, one of the first topics of conversation between me and at least a couple of the guys was the possibility of starting a band. Of course, nothing was particularly serious in our discussions; we were just a bunch of kids about to start their first year of college and do all kinds of strange and new things, so we talked about anything and everything. Still, the band was one of the deepest desires of my heart, and while I became preoccupied with other things as my college career got underway, the impulse to make myself indispensable through co-creation remained strong.
An outflowing of this impulse was that, spring quarter of my first year, I auditioned for a role in a play with University Theater, a musical which my roommate also was acting in, called Nowhere Town. (Start with the institutional relationships, turn them into self-determined activity relationships. At least, that was basically how I thought.) I had become pretty good friends with my roommate over the year without doing almost anything that he did on campus, except for residential activities. Anyway, the show was not particularly good or well written, but the people I met, alongside whom I acted, were so great that we had a peculiarly fun time with the show. Many of them were particularly musically talented, and at a couple of parties we would break out the instruments and those who could play them would, and the rest of us would sing along.
This jams-attitude persisted after the summer, in which I went home, and the fall, in which 2 of the Nowhere Town girls whom I had become close to were abroad. When winter arrived and everyone came back, some of the guys and girls from Nowhere Town started getting together for jams once a week at a regular time. I was unaware of this until one day, by a stroke of providence, I passed one of the guys, who was carrying his keyboard, in the hallway and asked him what he was up to. He mentioned that jams had become a regular thing and told me he was on his way. No explicit invitation to come participate, but I’d gotten good enough on the bass, through playing for my church and my InterVarsity fellowship, to contribute, and I was sure no one would be opposed to my tagging along (I was, after all, a pretty good institutional friend, for being one). So I grabbed my bass and amp from my room and followed him down to the music rooms.
Jams continued for the next couple weeks, and we realized that some of our songs sounded pretty good, so one day one of the girls asked, “Guys, this kinda sounds like a band. Want to play a show? Off-Off [a campus comedy troupe] needs a preglow.” I had forgotten how much I had wanted a band, but the want was still there, and I had found people I genuinely loved being in community with and who were willing to have me along for the ride. Of course, by then I had already made friends, and the band came out of our friendship, not the other way around.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that the following year has been the best of my life. I played eight shows with the band over the course of the year, and we had too many rehearsal-jams to count, and every time it was a highlight of my week. But of course, all good things must come to an end. This spring, two of our members are going abroad for the quarter, and this summer two are graduating and another is moving away after having graduated. So, until the reunion tour, it doesn’t seem like Gutenberg and the Illuminators have much of a performance future left.
We played our last show last night. About a hundred people showed up, which is a lot given how much our friend-groups overlap. I was surprised by how entertained everyone was, and we had a good crowd for almost 2 hours of music. We were on our game for the most part, not that it mattered, since everyone was singing along and/or dancing to certain numbers. But this - the ability to show a bunch of people a good time, the creative camaraderie among a few friends - summed up everything I wanted out of being part of a band.
And I realized, if this was as good as life got, in and of itself, it wouldn’t be enough. See, Augustine had a very good point, when he remarked that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. There is a way to do things, such as playing in a band, that is intentionally aimed at the glorification of God, and there is a way to do such things in a way not intentionally aimed at such. And I have experienced much more fulfillment in activities aimed at the glorification of God (which can be any activity not in contradiction to the law of God, depending on how you go about it).
Don’t get me wrong. I love my bandmates and they are some of my best friends. I love the band itself and think that our purpose in doing what we do is worthwhile, and there is nothing I’d rather be doing with the time that we play together than that. I think what God is showing me through my experience with the band (a good portion of which is non-Christian, by the way) is that fun things on their own merits are fun but unfulfilling, while fun things built into the structure of my mission as a servant of God are both fun and fulfilling. That’s part of seeking internal integration around the good, as Aquinas put it.
I’ve had as much fun as I could possibly hope for with this group, and at the same time the group has given me the realization that the desires of my heart that God chooses to grant me are and should properly be subordinated and incorporated into my desire for Him. This is where my desires are reformed into things that are actually good for me. I’ve gained a much better understanding of what friendship is through my interactions with these guys and girls, and it seems that I had wanted for the wrong reasons something that turned out to be very good for me. It’s important that God’s plan doesn’t just include His followers doing the right things; that’s legalism. What God wants is for us to truly want, to love, the right things. Instead of loving the idea of coercing people into liking me, I’ve learned to love people for who they are, made in the image of God, and as figures of Christ to us (Matt 25:40).
That (along with all the killer jamz) is how my bandmates have blessed me. I look forward to our glorious reunion in 2030, and all the good times I’ll yet have with subsets of y’all.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift his countenance toward you and give you peace.
Installment 3 here. The book of Numbers is pretty awesome, and not read enough, so let’s check it out.
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and they said, “We will not come up. Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us? Moreover, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up.” And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.”
Apparently, one of the perks of being Moses is that sometimes, you get to tell God what to do. Or at least presume to do so without being smited. It’s interesting to note that the rebellion against Moses here, being led by the sons of Korah, is due to Moses exercising (perfectly just) priestly authority over them. People generally don’t like that. And of course, God vindicates Moses later:
Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. And he spoke to the congregation, saying, ’Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.’ So they got away from the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. And Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones. And Moses said, ‘Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.’
And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, ‘Lest the earth swallow us up!’ And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.
God doesn’t play around. This is also a good example of the difference between God’s righteous collective judgment and the common humanistic ideal of individual judgment. Also, pretensions of priesthood are not appreciated. (Not as applicable in the same ways nowadays that all Christians are a “royal priesthood”, but still interesting to consider. Still, the next time non-Christians who are interested in your church wonder why you can’t give them communion, point them here.)
And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him. And the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand. And the donkey turned aside out of the road and went into the field. And Balaam struck the donkey, to turn her into the road. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. And when the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So he struck her again. Then the angel of the LORD went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”
Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me. The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, ”I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.
Balaam is a seer of Moab, employed to curse the Israelites as they come into the land. He goes with the princes to (they think) publicly curse the Israelites, but God has other plans, involving making his donkey talk. Balaam’s response to the talking donkey is pretty hilarious; bro must have been pretty mad to keep his composure when his donkey told him off. More theologically interestingly, God gives Balaam an instruction that he might have kept from the text, but God is still angry at Balaam after he seems to follow the instruction. It’s possible he went unsolicited, which would violate the command, but I dunno.
While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said to Moses,“Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, ”Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ’Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”
First, “whore” is generally underused as a verb. Second, the scene in which Phinehas spears the offending Israelite and his wife leaves very little to the imagination as to what the couple were doing, for extra horror-lulz. Third, please please please don’t read this as an excuse to go kill abortion doctors/people who commit sins that you don’t like. But it is an interesting picture of how God interacted with His people at this time, if such drastic measures were required for Israel to not fully apostatize and mess with the rest of redemptive history.
Finally, an excerpt from the apocryphal account of Bel and the Dragon for extra lulz (in case what that means is not clear, THIS NEXT PART ISN’T ACTUALLY IN THE BIBLE (but some people thought it was part of Daniel for some time)):
Now there was a large dragon, and the Babylonians used to revere it. The king said to Daniel, “Surely you can’t claim that this is not a living god. So worship it!” But Daniel replied, “I will worship the Lord my God alone, for he is the living God. But, O king, if you will grant me authority I will put the dragon to death using neither sword nor staff.” The king replied, “I grant you authority.”
So Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair and having brewed them together, he made cakes. Then he put them in the mouth of the dragon. When it ate them, the dragon burst asunder. Daniel said, “Look at what you worship!”
Still really cool, even though not canonical/historical.
Judges 15:4 “then Samson went and caught 300 foxes…”