The Reason for the Drought

We’ve been in a bit of a drought. It has a way of creating tension, stress, and even desperation.

Even though I’m not farming and suffer no major ill from the lack of rain, there’s something deep inside that feels a growing need for it. The land is parched, and it somehow feels like my soul is too.

The Israelites had a far more serious drought. It got so bad that they turned from the God of all gods and started entreating Ba’al, the storm god, for a quick fix. They tried everything, his prophets cutting themselves and chanting wildly. Nothing happened.

It didn’t rain until Elijah, the prophet of God, had humiliated the prophets of Ba’al and their god. It didn’t come until every other option had been exhausted; all the magic and spells and chanting and attempts to make nature and gods bargain with them ran out. They were broken, embarrassed, and without hope. The people had nowhere to turn except God himself, surrendering to his power over creation.

Then “a cloud no bigger than a man’s fist” appeared on the horizon, followed shortly by dark skies and a deluge.

This is the pattern of God’s creation in the natural world. The seasons and cycles push to the breaking point. When it appears the earth can’t take another day without rain, or another day without sun, or another day of freezing cold and snow, it breaks. Some things die off during the harsh season. They make way for fresh blooms and strong new growth.

This is no mistake. Our spiritual life is not separate from the created order. Creation is a teacher, a guide, and a companion. During the abundant season, we stray from Truth and seek folly. The early part of the drought doesn’t brings us back either. Instead, we seek to bargain with lesser gods, or go on our own strength. The drought persists and persists until we run out of options and are fully broken. Only then does that precious rain cloud appear.

One more detail from the story of Elijah. In the showdown with Ba’al, the final stretch of the drought needed to kill off what was corrupting, Elijah did something crazy. He setup and altar for sacrifice, but did not light the fire, saying God would do it and thus demonstrate his power. But he also dug a trench around the altar and called for many large barrels of water to drench the entire thing and fill the trench.

In the middle of a drought, where even the horses could hardly find a creek to water in, Elijah poured out large stores of water on the altar before God. A final act of complete surrender to His power and possibility.

God sent fire to consume everything. The meat, the wood, and even all the precious water on and around the altar.

Only after that did the tiny cloud come, just on time.

Categorized as Commentary

Writing and Ghostwriting

I’ve published over 2,200 articles under my own name, and over 700 as a co-author, editor, or ghostwriter.

The biggest difference is that ghostwriting takes more creativity.

Sounds counterintuitive, but to formulate concepts in a way that specific others would, rather than what comes naturally to you, requires a great deal of ingenuity.

The writing has to be sincere and real to be good. So how can you be sincere and real and also capture someone else’s voice – when they themselves aren’t sure how to capture their own voice?

Now that is a puzzle.

It takes more work. It’s sometimes annoying and constraining, but there’s a different kind of reward.

Writing for myself, the reward is mostly the feeling of having made something, produced something, said something I want to say. Writing with or for others, the reward is mostly the feeling of having solved a riddle or brain-teaser. It’s a playful pride in cracking the code.

I prefer writing under my own name, but writing with or for the right person(s) can be a great experience, and keeps my skills sharp, preventing me from falling too far into the chasm of idiosyncrasy.

Categorized as Commentary

The Low Church and the Whole Church

“If you take away the Spirit the letter kills, and then what hope will remain?” — St. Augustine

Maybe I need to write this to resolve an inner conflict.

I grew up in a non-denominational, charismatic environment. I loved it. I connected deeply with Christ, the scripture, communion, prayer, giving, serving, teaching, worship, and fellow Christians.

As I matured and became more intellectual and had more experiences of human folly in and outside of the Church, I saw gaps and pitfalls. I saw the shallowness of evangelical protestantism, the rigidness and folly of sola scriptura in the more dogmatic denominations, and the tendency to go astray, blown by “every wind of doctrine.”

I explored Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I found much there that was missing from my own tradition and upbringing. But I found pitfalls and folly there too. Most of all, I found an aesthetic that was so foreign to my nature I hardly knew how to engage with the Church in that form. Like a fish trying to climb a tree.

As I moved through phases in life and moved cities many times, my priorities changed. A regularity for my children, a basic body of good people around, and some semblance of connection to the Church I knew became paramount, as we were uprooted many times.

I’ve spent chunks of time not going to church at all. I’ve spent much larger chunks not only going, but leading worship, mission groups, service groups, prayer groups, Bible studies, and small groups of all kinds. I’ve preached sermons in wood huts in Africa, played guitar in plywood and sheet metal shacks in Mexico, chanted in Greek with the priest at Vespers, and sung on stage in mega church arenas in Nashville.

I have experienced God in a three and a half hour black Southern gospel service as well as a four and a half hour Latin Mass on Holy Saturday. I have experienced him in thirty minute Reformed sermons, outdoor worship concerts, and midnight prayer vigils.

I am deeply drawn to the theology of the ancient faith found in Eastern Orthodoxy, and am an avid listener of podcasts like The Lord of Spirits and The Whole Counsel of God. I’m currently reading several Orthodox classics, as well as my constant diet of the Bible and C.S. Lewis (who is the closest thing to a spiritual mentor I’ve had).

Orthodoxy (mostly) makes sense to me. Yet when I attend the services, though I feel holiness and awe, I cannot help but feel that this is not my home.

I remember driving through rural Tennessee, at a time when I was attending mass at a small Catholic church every Wednesday morning while also attending a local satellite of a large modern evangelical church every Sunday. I would walk in the stations of the cross garden and pray, asking God what my role in His Church is.

The closest thing to an answer I got was a consistent, small voice every time I drove by any church of any kind. As I drove past a tiny country Presbyterian church, He said, “That is the body of Christ.” A few miles down the road, I drove by the flashy megachurch and again He said, “That is the body of Christ”. I passed the Catholic church, and again He said, “That is the body of Christ.”

It brought me to tears. It humbled me. This has continued on every drive for several years. I knew God was whispering a humbling reminder to me. I was not going to find the perfect version of Church, nor even be able to sort out all the correct and incorrect things about any one of them.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t correct and incorrect things about every Church, nor that some aren’t more off base than others, or even heretical. That is certainly true. But I don’t think I’m the person to make those calls, certainly not for anyone else. I am called to find the Church in the place and way that I can be a part of Her.

This meta-realization doesn’t make connecting with any particular body of believers easier. But it does help give me perspective.

Through all my searching, and all my love for the ancient Orthodox theology, ritual, and liturgical calendar, there’s one thing that has always been out of place: my deep and abiding love for “modern worship”. I feel like David when I cry out to God with my whole voice and my whole heart.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.” — Psalm 150:4

I am overcome with joy, weeping, brokenness, wholeness, and the Holy Spirit when I listen to and participate in musical worship. I would go so far as to say I need it. It was put in me from my birth. I am called to it. I can feel the chains of the devil breaking, the heart of stone softening, the tears of grace flowing.

Musical worship with screaming electric guitars, drums, base, keys, and the full force of (sometimes cheesy) contemporary song is a decidedly low church phenomenon. It is often raw and undignified. It is not liturgical, and it is certainly prone to error and excess. Yet I cannot deny that the Spirit of God is in it.

“David was dancing before the Lord with all his might…with shouts and the sound of trumpets...when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart…David said…”I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”” — 2 Samuel 6:14-23

The low church is a mess. It is unconstrained and tends to get too weird, too emotional, and too intellectually thin. But it, too, is the body of Christ.

It is good to remember too that every form of the Church is prone to error. The low church likely errs more frequently than the high church, but the errors are also probably less dangerous. A child gone astray is less of a danger to the world than an adult who is corrupt.

In all these years and all this pondering and praying and searching and experiencing, I have also noticed something else: every land and every people has their own culture, mannerisms, norms, and traditions. And from the earliest days of the Church, these have manifest when Christians gather. Christ doesn’t squash them.

The Church in Jerusalem, mostly Jews, did not look the same as the uncircumcised believers in Greece. The Apostles had to figure out what this meant, and concluded it was normal, as a people came to Christ and were saved from the local gods who enslaved them, that they would bring their own traditions into the Church. Christ goes down to the very bottom and redeems everything. The unique aspects of each culture and people do not dissolve, they blossom in Christ.

“If the whole body were an eye, the body would not be able to hear. If the whole body were an ear, the body would not be able to smell anything. If each part of the body were the same part, there would be no body...And we give special care to the parts of the body that we want to hide.” — 1 Corinthians 12:17-23

I am an American. America is a young, brash, foolhardy, open, emotional, wild, passionate, immature, and sincere culture. We are too naive to be subtle and savvy; too foolish to know the dangers we flirt with. We are the children approaching Christ, oblivious to his great power; or the Centurion who didn’t deign to bother Jesus to come to him but thought, very practically, that he could heal from afar. We don’t know what we don’t know. But we go at things hard. We go all the way.

Maybe Americans need a little charismania. Maybe it’s in our blood.

I was born into the low Church. I value, respect, and am in awe of the high Church. But I am a ranger, a rebel, a frontiersman, and outcast, roaming the outskirts of the Kingdom, doing my best to serve the King in the wilderness.

I do not always do well. I am not always good. I am not always faithful. I am not always a servant. I can only hope that, by the Grace of God, at the resurrection I can stand side by side with my brothers and sisters from every variation of the Church across the globe and worship the Risen Savior together.

Living on Spreadsheets vs Living in Market

I love spreadsheets. I couldn’t run a business (or my life) without them.

But big strategic decisions and actions require more than spreadsheets. There’s another half to the equation.

You need to know it makes business sense in the columns and rows and cells. But you need to turn that business sense into a genuine connection with the market and make it a moment they feel.

This requires living in your market. Among your colleagues, customers, and partners. You’ve got to know how the spreadsheet logic will translate into market logic – into a feeling, a movement, that they value and can participate in.

This knowledge rarely effects the big decisions you make, but it absolutely should impact how and when you make and communicate those decisions, and be a major part of the smaller decisions and actions along the way.

Making business sense is not enough. You’ve got to make it make sense sense too.

Make Fun of Stuff (Especially Yourself)

When I start to feel stressed or overly intense, sometimes I will notice something absurd – in myself or the world – and it laugh-shocks me into a better state of mind.

I think, “You know, I need to try to make jokes to myself more often.”

Then when life gets serious, I forget.

I can think of many times I’ve been too serious. I can’t think of any times when I laughed too much (excepting moments of cruel, mocking laughter).

I guess I can laugh at the absurdity of my own inability to remember this.

When it Devolves to Citations

Citations are just one step on the road to legalese hell.

When in the course of an argument or conversation it becomes necessary to produce “receipts”, cite sources, or refer to documents and prior statements, things have gone in a bad direction.

This is sometimes necessary, but it is far from ideal. And it’s what eventually ends in legal documents no one can read drawn up by overpaid lowers. It means plain speaking has broken down because motives, memories, and emotions have gone awry.

Whenever possible, I try not to invoke “receipts” or cite sources in an initial exchange of ideas. I want to simply represent the arguments as I see them as logically as possible, and represent the other person’s view fairly as well.

I do not always succeed, and when it moves into “show me the receipts” territory, it goes from productive and enjoyable to tiring. At least for me. Some people are most at home in this territory, and I do not decry them. Good that someone is.

It is even, Heaven forbid, good that some people can go all the way to legalspeak when needed. But boy does it suck.

Joy in Ill Health

I used to wonder what was wrong with the old people who seemed dour all the time. Now I suspect a good number of them were simply in physical pain.

Ill health makes me very melancholy. Especially if it’s not entirely clear the source it. I find it hard to maintain joy when I’m uncomfortable for unknown reasons.

I have so much respect for those whose countenance never dims.

Fear of Mystery

I don’t pretend to know a lot about history, but it seems to be for most of human history, people have been pretty okay with a lot of mystery.

The way the world works and reality is structured has always been discussed, theories always put forward, practices developed. But older cultures seemed to leave large swaths of reality unexplained, or partially explained, or explained only in general, symbolic ways.

Sometime in the last 500 years or so, that changed. Mystery and the unexplained began to make people uncomfortable, as confidence in our ability to understand and explain things grew. I don’t lament this change. I’m more inclined to like it, but it does come with some weird side effects.

The weirdest is our propensity to lie to ourselves and be willfully incorrect.

I’m not talking about the times when our explanations for how reality works are wrong but we don’t realize it. This is pretty much always the case for everything, but if we don’t know that we’re wrong, of course we’ll continue being wrong.

I’m talking about the times when we know that we don’t know, but we choose to pretend we know even though we know we don’t.

Every moderately learned person knows about the “replication crisis”. The vast majority of all “scientific studies” cannot be replicated, which means that, by their own rules of what counts as valid, they are utterly and completely invalid. Everyone knows this. Yet everyone continues to use studies to back up their claims, and acts skeptical if an argument doesn’t have a study.

We are all susceptible to this. In business, I know and believe that most marketing efforts cannot be attributed accurately enough to have high confidence, and that efforts to attribute actually lead to the wrong conclusions more often than not. I see it, I talk about it with marketers, they all agree. Yet what do we do when presented with a choice about strategies? We ask to see the very numbers we know are lying to us.

The numbers feel safer. More comfortable. Why?

Maybe it helps us outsource blame? If I go with my gut and get it wrong, it’s on me. If I go with the numbers and get it wrong, it’s on the numbers. Of course this is also a lie, because numbers can’t act. Only humans can. The choice is mine, whether supported by my gut, the numbers, logic, or Chicken entrails.

Why does invoking numbers or studies make me feel less vulnerable, even though I know full well it’s a facade? Why do I have this instinctive capacity to be comforted by lies?

Agere Sequiter Credere?

I’ve always loved this Latin phrase, which means “Action follows belief”.

It aligns with the Misesian understanding of human action, my own experience of life, and what seems logical.

But there are things that seem to throw a wrench in it. There are many beliefs that only seem possible after action. The belief that you can ride a bike, or get in shape, or be transformed through religious practice; these beliefs are almost impossible to have before you take the action, but instead result from it.

I don’t think this poses a problem for the logic of our phrase. Purposeful action does follow belief – must follow belief – but not necessarily the belief most directly connected to it. A child may hop on the bike one more time disbelieving it will result in learning to ride. But they hop on the bike because they believe doing so is preferable to not doing so, even if only to avoid parental chiding.

You take communion without understanding and fully believing in its spiritual power, but you do believe something sufficient to motivate you to action. Maybe it’s just that, all else equal, it seems better to try than not.

The beautiful thing about belief is that it doesn’t have to be grand, or based on a full understanding to motivate action, and the action itself has a way of forming stronger, deeper beliefs.

So yes, action follows belief. But you don’t need to get the beliefs perfect before you act. Act on the tiniest, flimsiest belief, and let the action do the rest of the work.

Guilt vs Sacrifice

Lots of people are offended by the ideas of Ayn Rand. I don’t pretend to know or defend them in detail, but one of the main thrusts of her work is that no one should be guilted into doing or becoming what others want instead of what you want.

There’s a way to take this that seems bad. The idea of self-sacrifice is core to Christianity, and because Christianity has transformed the whole world, to nearly all cultures and values. To never act to aid another at personal cost would be to forgo the beauty and power of sacrifice.

But that’s not the lesson I take from Rand. I think pity and altruism are used as weapons of evil more often than they motivate good. Unlike other passions like greed or anger, they rarely come under scrutiny or suffer blame. This makes them dangerous.

Feeling bad for someone can cause you to stop doing good or start doing bad. It can cause you to make the world uglier for fear that beauty might offend them. It’s even worse when you feel bad for a Theoretical Person, or some group or aggregate, because they can never be satisfied.

“Maybe we should curb this goodness/beauty/excellence/truth/joy because I can imagine people who might feel bad in its presence.” This is a terrible and corrosive sentiment, slowly turning the world to darkness.

Taking action to help another person out of care for them is wonderful. Ceasing to do good out of guilt for the potential offense it might cause another person is not.

Open Education vs Closed Education

The real world isn’t a closed system. It isn’t a finite, zero-sum game. It’s dynamic, creative, innovative, infinite, and cooperative.

If you want to earn a living, you have to create value. But there is no correct answer to the question, “How do I create value?”

It requires experimentation, trial, error, gain, loss, feedback, and adjustment. And it’s a moving target. A constant dance.

If the point of education is preparation for success in the world, it should also be open. But most mass, modern approaches to education are closed.

There are correct answers to everything. They come down from a single authority. Things are rigid, with lagging feedback loops, only changing when authorities dictate.

Closed education is not good preparation for an open world. It ends up resembling a training ground for closed societies – no one gets in or out, ownership and entrepreneurship are nonexistent, the authorities hold all the answers and control individuals like lumps of dough.

Few educators want this, but the inertia of the system seems too much to overcome for reformers. In a way, they are correct. Reform from within is limited.

Thankfully, external forces come into play.

As the world shifts and evolves, more people are seeing and feeling the pains of closed education. They are seeking to open it up.

The lines are blurring. Homeschool, unschool, microschool, co-ops, pods, alt-schools, tutors, teachers, coaches, guides, part-time, full-time, private, public, remote, in-person, synchronous, asynchronous – more terms keep getting added and each term becomes less clear-cut. They are no longer rigid categories you must choose between, but a grab-bag of tools you can pick up and use as needed, swapping freely. This is a good thing.

Ironically, when the world closed in 2020, it revealed the problems with closed education more than ever. Parents saw and felt the contradictions. It opened their minds to the need to open their kids education.

Traditional school enrollment has been plummeting. Funding that follows students instead of schools has exploded. Teachers have begun to become education entrepreneurs. Parents now realize they have no choice but to take charge of their kids education – simply deferring to the system is not sufficient.

The age of open education is upon us.

You may be pessimistic about this year or the next. I don’t fault you. But I can’t look at the opening of education and the rapid growth of this movement and not see a brighter future. We’re in the thick of the struggle now, as we wrestle with what all these changes mean.

How can we embrace technology and the openness it offers while not becoming addicted to screens and isolated from the real world?

How can we harness the benefits of asynchronous and location-independent learning while still forming bonds and connections?

How can we take charge of our kids education while not feeling under-equipped and overwhelmed?

These are the questions we’re dealing with, and they are good questions. The right questions.

All of them are being answered in a million ways a million times a day across the world. We are trying, testing, experimenting, sharing, cooperating, and figuring out how to solve them. This is how an open world works, and how an open education should be created.

The answer is not to run from change and technology or pine for past eras. Nor is it to let change and technology and inertia be in the drivers’ seat while you’re merely along for the ride.

The answer it to take the reins and stay open. Explore and learn and share. Go your own way but don’t go it alone.

The world is ready and waiting for kids to engage with it, rather than be kept hidden away from it.

Let’s open education together.

Transition Protocol

Leaving a bad taste in someone’s mouth is a lot more costly than you might think.

The world is smaller than you think, and how you exit a situation matters a lot. Whenever ending a transaction, interaction, contract, arrangement, either side of employment, membership, etc. I have never once regretted erring on the side of generosity and goodwill – even if the other party didn’t reciprocate. I have regretted a few times I’ve been stingy or done only what’s minimally required.

These things have a way of coming around.